Thursday, November 30, 2006

Stardust in their eyes.

Melanie Phillips pities the Polly preener!

Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips wrote an incisive piece a couple of days ago, in the aftermath of Dave Cameron's and Greg Clarke's rebranding of the Tory chalky tree message and the acceptance of relative poverty. Churchill is out Toynbee is in.

This bunch of Old Etonian's look and feel more and more like airhead patricians as each month goes by, when will "Dave" grasp the fact that we need a party that offers alternative policies, and that we do not need two parties that look and sound the same! Soundbites might be o.k. for the marketing men who have never had a 'real' job, but the rest of us may just prefer a chance to vote for a different way of life that offers more opportunity and hope for the future.

Melanie Phillips lays into this Cameroony nonsense with a relish reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher's bid to wrestle the leadership from Ted Heath.

"An opinion poll suggests that Mr Cameron's progress may be stalling. If so, this is undoubtedly because people can see through the spin. They don't want Blue Labour; and they will never trust politicians speaking out of both sides of their mouths.

Throwing Cameroon stardust in people's eyes may work for a while. But the British are not likely to buy a Polly in a poke. If they can vote for the organ-grinder, after all, why elect the monkey? It's enough to make a dinosaur laugh."

You can read her full article - here

Oh to be back in a more polarized age when black was black and white was white, greyness belonged to Major!


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

North-East teachers' fury

Call to ban website

Some people just don't get this "new media" thing at all do they? A website which encourages pupils to leave comments on the abilities of their teachers has come under attack from teachers and teaching unions, it has been described as leading to plunging moral and even threats to quit the job.

Curly has been to have a look at this website and understands that pupils have a way of expressing themselves in what they see as a "threat free" environment, an adjunct to the democratic process, and something which perhaps could be looked at by Ofstead when they make their regular inspections. The site does try to redress the balance for those teachers who feel unfairly treated by some students comments and gives the option for teachers to have their own say. Additionally, of course, there is recourse to the law should contributors be found to be posting libellous remarks.

A number of schools in the North-East have taken steps to ensure that pupils cannot gain access to the site from computers within the school grounds, but cannot prevent them using the site from home

NUT Newcastle secretary Ian Grayson said the comments on RateMyTeachers were "totally inappropriate and distasteful" and damaging teachers' health.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers has now launched an investigation into the problem. Thousands of pupils are rating North-East teachers on the website - and leaving scathing comments about them.

Teaching unions are now demanding pupils be stopped from leaving insulting remarks about teachers' alleged drinking, body odour and teaching ability. The site has 454,000 ratings for 95,000 teachers in the UK.

Whitley Bay High was the first of several schools to block access to the site - but now teachers' unions are demanding the website be banned permanently. The school's page has had 42,084 hits and 1,480 comments about its teachers.

Whitley Bay High headteacher Adam Chedburn said: "Staff find this individual singling out embarrassing and upsetting."

NAS/UWT North-East national executive member Mick Lyons said the issue was seriously affecting the lives of teachers.

He said: "This site should be banned. This is a sensitive issue for teachers.

"The abuse posted online can totally undermine teachers in the classroom."

NUT Newcastle secretary Ian Grayson said there had been a huge increase in the number of comments being posted.

He said: "They are inaccurate and unfair but sadly we are seeing more and more of them. I am aware of teachers being affected. This kind of thing has a detrimental effect on their health."

Professional Association of Teachers general secretary Philip Parkin said: "Posting comments about teachers on websites amounts to harassment and bullying."

Association of Teachers and Lecturers general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said many teachers had considering quitting.

She said: "It is insidious, pernicious and totally unacceptable."

Of course in the "good old days" pupils would vent their frustrations by using felt tipped pens, chalks, and spray paints to mark their comments on the walls of the nearest public buildings, would some of our teaching unions prefer that we went back down this route? I don't think so!

The Newcastle Journal gives examples of some of the less than complimentary comments, which I don't intend to repeat here, but it is worth considering the comments from students in relation to the most recent Ofstead reports about their schools. I looked at some schools from South Tyneside and found it extremely difficult to find negative comments about the teachers, so perhaps this is a reflection of the overall standards of teaching being achieved in some schools, and a measure of the overall "culture" within the schools.

Here are some of the comments posted by pupils about their teachers from Harton School, which recently received an outstanding report from Ofstead:

"Great teacher, never ever met anyone with better maths brain than him."

"I think she is a fab teacher but she seems to think that she's better than everyone else and that don't look very good!"

" Put Space Invaders and a Battlezone in the gym block! Alas they were only there a couple of days after the Daily Mirror and Newsround found out about it, a true visionary ahead of his time"

"I heard she was scary but funny...I also heard she has a fantastic brother who also teaches up in Scotland; but he is funnier!"

"Sound teacher"

O.k., it's not earth shattering stuff, but certainly it gives the impression that the pupils are generally satisfied with the way that things are going in their school and reflects the hard work of the head teacher, his staff, and the governors in their efforts to continually improve educational standards. Perhaps if the teaching unions could encourage their members to contribute to the site and follow the example of our better schools they would find less to get excited about and more to look forward to. I found the comments about teachers in South Tyneside to be quite refreshing and encouraging, and they were probably posted by the more willing and gifted of our pupils, certainly a feather in the cap for our Lead Member for Lifelong Learning - now where's that other site "rate my councillor"?


The Journal


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Battle really worth fighting.

Blair hints that BA may be wrong

The Prime Minister has made his first utterance about the row between British Airlines and Nadia Eweida and their long running dispute over their uniform policy. Ms. Eweida is claiming that she has been discriminated against by the policy that requires her to hide her Christian cross (as small as it is) beneath her uniform, which she refuses to do.

BA's uniform policy does not allow the wearing of jewelry, adornments, or religious symbols, as a matter of course for members of all faiths. Unless of course that the religious symbol is a hijab or a turban, which would 'not be practicable to wear beneath the uniform'.

Tony Blair in a question and answer session at the CBI's conference in London yesterday conceded that he was a fan of the airline and it's management but suggested that

"Some battles were really, really worth fighting, and that there are battles really, really not worth fighting" and "you are best to do the sensible thing - know what I mean?"

Curly suggests that Ms. Eweida oughtpicture of John Sentamu to have worn a pectoral cross similar to that of the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu (pictured), it would hardly have been practicle to hide THAT under a uniform!

(The Prime Minister is now a practising Roman Catholic of course.)


The Daily Mail


Monday, November 27, 2006

A visit to Denmark Square

Delights of the library

Curly and his family made a visit to Denmark Square, South Shields this afternoon to go to the library, it is some time since we were last there. There are probably many in South Shields who haven't used the library in many years (I don't fall into this category)

I often throw bric-bats and criticisms at our Labour council in South Tyneside, but to be fair I must give out praise and credit where it is due.

There have been some major changes to our library service recently and they apply across all of the borough's libraries. Out have gone all of the high level shelving to be replaced by modern low level book racks more easily accessible to most, including wheelchair users. Many books have been removed to the archives and the most popular selections remain on view (archived books can still be borrowed however). The biggest surprise comes when you renew your library ticket, which is now very much like a credit card with a magnetic strip, the card entitles you to take 4 X CDs, 4 X DVDs, and up to 12 books. Of course there is a small charge for borrowing digital media(which is only reasonable) but books are still free to lend, I'm not sure how many people might find the time to read a dozen books in a month, but you never know!

We had gone to get some DVDs suitable for children, the choice was enormous in the Sites and Sounds section, downstairs, you can even borrow software and games for the PC!

The new borrowing options available with the new card are tremendous, and the fees represent exceedingly good value for money (DVDs can be borrowed from as little as 1.10 each for a week.)
Other services at the Central Library include free public internet access, a great local history and research centre, reading clubs for children, an excellent reading room for those students who crave peace and quiet in the extensive reference section, and a tempting cafe.

I was greatly impressed and would recommend a visit to your local library, if you haven't been for a while.

I wonder if it would be politically risky to suggest that the days of free public libraries ought to be something of the dark and distant past? Would it be so bad to be charged a 20p fee to borrow a book? We seem happy enough to pay a fee to borrow other items.


More Big Brother nonsense!

Spy cameras at recycling centres

The ever increasing encroachment into our private lives by the state and it's minions quietly carries on in Britain, now the most spied on state in Europe.

Sophisticated cctv cameras capable of reading and storing data such as car registration plates are being installed at waste sites in Buckinghamshire, Croydon, Somerset, Dundee, and Hertfordshire, and more councils are planning to install the equipment after a Quango named The Waste and Resources Action Programme suggested using cctv to record vehicles making repeated visits to recycling centres.

They want to know what we recycle, when we recycle, are we doing it correctly and legally, do we dump too much! Yet they seriously want us to recycle, even after the installation of micro chips into dustbins in part of the country that will help discover the weight of rubbish in our bins!

These cameras are being imposed after the government threatened to fine local authorities 150 pounds per tonne for overfilling landfill sites. Yet cameras which record and recognise vehicle registration numbers are tracking our daily movements, where does this fit in with the Data Protection Act?

Curly hopes that the next government will introduce moves toget Big Brother out of the house! (I will be casting a beady eye around the recycling village at Middlefields, South Shields when I next visit on Wednesday.)


Daily Mail


New threats to freedom and liberty

Met. seeks further powers.

According to the Metropolitan Police there are sections of the community who are becoming more and more politicised and increasingly likely to join protests, demonstrations, raise banners, and chant slogans (heaven forbid). Therefore they feel it necessary to demand more powers to arrest citizens who cause offence through the use of their words, actions, or the banners they carry!

Curly feels as though they are dangerously close to crossing a line that marks the boundary between a democratic state and a police state!

In an article in the Guardian today, Vikram Dodd reports:

The country's biggest force, the Metropolitan police, is to lobby the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, because officers believe that large sections of the population have become increasingly politicised, and there is a growing sense that the current restrictions on demonstrations are too light.
Trouble at recent protests involving Islamic extremists has galvanised the Met's assistant commissioner, Tarique Ghaffur, into planning a crackdown.

His proposals are due to be sent to Lord Goldsmith, who is reviewing how effective the current laws are in tackling extremists.
The police want powers to proscribe protest chants and slogans on placards, banners and headbands.

Human rights experts say that such powers could also be used against protesters such as animal rights and anti-globalisation activists.

The civil rights group Liberty said the powers would make the police "censors in chief".
The director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, said:

"[The proposal] misunderstands the nature of law and free expression in a democracy and casts the police as censors in chief. It aims to protect people from 'offence' rather than harm, slates the CPS and muses wildly on 'public perceptions'."

A solicitor who has defended protesters, Mike Schwarz, said:

"Causing offence, if there is no other ingredient, is not against the law."

He said such proposed powers would clash with article 10 of the European convention on human rights which protects freedom of expression.

You can read the full report - here.

Curly feels that the police should be better employed chasing down the muggers and street thugs who plague the nation's capital, winkle out the car thieves and burglars, crack down on gun crime and rapists, rather than become embroiled in a war of words over our political protests and rights of expression.

Whatever is becoming of Englands "green and pleasant land"?


Sunday, November 26, 2006

Mobility Scooters illegal

Untaxed and uninsured liabilities on the roads.

Back in October I complained about the abundance of erratically operated mobility scooters in our supermarkets , on the pavements, and sometimes on the roads!
This was at the time when an elderly gentleman on his electric scooter cause mayhem on the A19 Tyne Tunnel approach road.In 2004, the most recent year for which figures are available, there were a reported 1,134 incidents involving scooters, including the deaths of eight riders who were hit by cars or lorries on the open road.

I called then for some minimum training standards and regulation, now it seems that others have taken this issue seriously too.

Last night Ray Hodgkinson, director general of the industry body the British Healthcare Trades Association, said:

"They should be licensed just like any other vehicle under the Road Traffic Act. If they're on the road, they should have lights and indicators. We have a responsibility as an industry to make sure users are properly instructed. After all, these things can be lethal."

Liberal Democrat MP Bob Russell, who has campaigned on the issue, said:

"The law in this area is extremely muddled. I welcome the mobility these machines give to the elderly and disabled but with freedom must come responsibility. We need some form of regulation - not to create another level of bureaucracy - but for the safety of users and the general public."

A spokesman for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents said:

"We have received a number of complaints about these scooters. We feel there should be a minimum requirement for third-party insurance and some training."

The Department for Transport said:

"We are currently reviewing the rules that govern the use of these vehicles. We believe that the vast majority of users operate their vehicles safely and legally."

Asked why the law was not being applied to scooter users, the spokesman said:

"That is a matter for local authorities and the police."

So next time you are nearly bowled over in Tescos, or held up on the road by an electric scooter, whip out your mobile and call the boys in blue!


The Daily Mail


Operation Kaolin

Who says the police have no humour?

"Gorgeous" George Galloway, the outspoken left-wing ant-war Respect MP was in Sunderland on Wednesday for a speaking engagement at the Bangladeshi Community Centre in Hendon.

Some of his detractors, of course, might accuse the man who cosied up to Saddam Hussein of gushing forth with much verbal diarrhoea, so it is somewhat amusing that the Northumbrian Police operation to offer him protection has been labelled "Operation Kaolin".

Perhaps the Chief Constable was making a real attempt to dry Galloway's comments up at last!


Sunday Sun


Making your views heard to the council.

Join a complaints choir.

I was having a rejoinder the other night with one of our esteemed but nameless South Tyneside Labour Councillors in the local after the Wolves v Sunderland match. I had consumed two or three pints of my favoured grog, the councillor may have consumed even more, I don't know - he was already in there before I arrived. To cut a long story short, at closing time he advised me that he would not be replying to my latest email as I spend too much time "taking the piss" out of him on that "bloody website of yours"!

Charming to the last.

So what is one to do, if one wants questions answered, if one wants to hold the council to account? Perhaps I should have emailed the Executive Director of the relevant department at the town hall in the first place, after all most of the responses I receive from Labour councillors take the form of a polite note with the director's comments attached, or the directors themselves are instructed to send a reply directly to me. Seems a lot of our councillors are not capable of putting together a concise reply of their own.

I wish to complain! Anyone want to join me? Why don't we form a choir and stand on the town hall steps and sing in unison? Perhaps if the complaint is well received Unison, the union, might decide to join in too!


Friday, November 24, 2006

Wolves - v - Sunderland

1 - 1 "bore draw"

Curly went to the Snooker Club in Chichester Road, South Shields, tonight to watch the lads playing at Molineux, a fixture that had been pencilled in months ago by BSkyB as an event that might produce fireworks between Roy Keane and former Sunderland manager Mick McCarthy. As it was, the hacks will have found nothing to report on this issue, the hatchet having buried some weeks ago in a telephone call between the two.

The game itself was almost a non event ending in a tame draw, which must have been more painful for Wolves than Sunderland. Other than a brief flurry of activity in the first half, Sunderland showed little invention and their passing was extremely poor. three players who impressed me throughout the match were all in old gold shirts, the two former Black Cats center backs Gary Breen and Jodie Craddock as well as their striker Jamel Johnson, who was lively, physical, athletic, and a threat all night. His goal was out of the top drawer, whilst "Sleeves'" Elliott's was a little fortunate after taking a deflection.

One would have thought that Sunderland's equalizer might have been the high point of the evening, yet it seemed to most of us that Dean Whitehead's clearance off the line was the defining moment of our dismal display. I haven't even bothered to read my email tonight to see what Roy Keane has to tell the faithful, his ineptidude in playing Whitehead as a right back was there for all to see, once he was released into midfield and Nosworthy sent in as full back, we began to look a little more potent, but by then it was far too late to attempt to win the spoils.

My feelings on the signings of Dwight Yorke and David Connelly are not too positive either, neither of these players have yet to impress, along with Liam Miller, I would rather see Daryl Murphy playing alongside Steve Elliott.

Hey, ho, it's another ugly point in the bag for our novice manager.


BBC Sport


Tories -Tossers!

Just where is the Conservative Party heading these days?

Idealogically bare naked, blues gone green, loving hoodies, hugging muggers, standing in the middle of the road waiting to get knocked over, saying anything to get elected, - now Tossers!

Get it "sorted" guys!


The Daily Telegraph


"Corruption Rife" - Labour Councillor

Labour Party funded on the rates!

The former Labour Leader of Sunderland Council, Cllr. Bryn Sidaway, has dramatically resigned from the party after being forced to hand over 215 pounds, from his council tax payer funded allowance, directly to the party to help clear it's debts. According to The Daily Mail, Labour members quietly passed a resolution at their party conference in September calling on all councillors to hand over a percentage of their allowances direct from the council payroll to fill the financial black hole. The party is saddled with debts totalling 22million pounds as a result of the cash for peerages scandal, which has led to a drought in donations. The allowances, introduced by Labour in 1998, were originally intended to be used to help councillors carry out their duties for voters, rather than for party political purposes.But those who refuse to pay the levy have now been threatened with disciplinary action by Labour whips.

Cllr. Sidaway has now reported the matter to Northumbria Police, saying:

"It is a national disgrace. We are talking about millions of pounds a year going into the Labour Party war chest via the taxpayer - but without them even knowing. This is their money. They elect local councillors in the hope that it will improve their lives - not to fund Labour's bid to be re-elected.
I feel ashamed. I have been a Labour Party supporter for 48 years - ever since I was 15-years-old. Corruption is rife. It is shambolic and disgusting. The public is being deceived and betrayed by a Government hell bent on staying in power. We are being run by a dictatorship. Democracy has simply been swept away."

This report in the Sunderland Echo on 11th. November makes it clear that there was nothing voluntary about using council allowances to bolster Labour's funds, I'm sure that nobody would reasonably object to councillors donating monies to whoever they wished out of their own pockets, but this looks like a clear case of diverting public cash directly to the party coffers.

Curly wonders if such a scheme is being operated within the ranks of the Labour Party on South Tyneside District Council and calls upon it's Labour Leader, Cllr. Paul Waggott, to make a statement to clear the air. Of course, it would be so easy to argue that having received (legitimately) their council allowances, members should be able to decide how, where, and when to spend them, but if the money is deducted at source through a council payroll scheme then that is an entirely different matter. I think we deserve to know if we are paying to clear Labour's debts - don't you?


The Daily Mail


This from BBC News at 14:41

Labour has been accused of using councillors' publicly-funded allowances to help pay off party debts.

The Tories are calling for an inquiry by watchdog the district auditor after Labour changed its rules about levies from its local councillors.

Labour said the cash was used to support its local group activities.

But the Tories say a leaked memo shows funds are being sent to Labour Party headquarters rather than to fund local party activities.

Sleaze watchdog the Standards Board for England said it had received a complaint from an ex-Labour councillor.

Northumbria Police have also confirmed they have received a complaint from a former leader of Sunderland Council, Bryn Sidaway, who quit in protest at the levy.
The Tories, who say they do not force their councillors to fund party activities, charge a 25 pounds a year fixed fee for professional support from the Conservative Councillors Association.

They estimate the new Labour levy could raise at least 1.9 million pounds for the Labour Party across its 6,200 councillors. The Labour Party has debts of 14.9 million pounds according to its 2005 accounts.

"It is scandalous that the Labour Party is systematically abusing councillor allowances and attempting to avoid bankruptcy by using council taxpayers' money to bail the party out," said shadow minister for local government Eric Pickles.

"At a time when council tax has gone through the roof, families and pensioners will be shocked to learn that their bills are not being used to clean the streets or empty bins - but instead, to give covert cash payments to the Labour Party direct from the council payroll."

Update 2

The Leader of South Tyneside Council, Paul Waggott has been in touch with the Corner Shop to confirm that Labour councillors in this borough are not participating in this scheme in any fashion at all. He's probably as annoyed as everyone else at the news of this scandal.


It's not just the Christmas message that's under attack!

Christian students suffering.

Whilst I have posted recently about the watering down of the message of Christmas here and here, it has not escaped my notice that Christianity itself appears to be undergoing a period of persecution within this realm.

Student Union Associations and university authorities have taken action against Christian Unions at Exeter, Birmingham, Edinburgh, and Heriot-Watt Universities, and are attempting to force the Christian student bodies to accept anyone regardless of faith, ethnicity, or sexuality to sit on their ruling committees and address their meetings. The Christian Unions say they should be allowed to restrict membership of their committees to those who share their faith and beliefs.

These Unions are now suffering a loss of priveleges on university campuses including exclusion from university buildings, and removal from the lists of approved university societies.

The Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship, the umbrella group for Britain’s 350 Christian unions, has described the problems faced by CUs on campuses as "unprecedented" during the course of its 83-year history. Pod Bhogal, the fellowship’s head of communications, said that the discrimination was the result of "political correctness gone mad" and an increasingly secularist agenda across all aspects of society.

Today The Times published a letter from leading clerics, including eight Bishops and a former Archbishop of Canterbury, which urges the universities to reconsider their stance and gives backing to moves within the Christian Unions to test the decision in the courts.

Curly views the decisions taken at these universities as persecution, illogical secularism, and "political correctness" going " off the scale", what is next on their agendas - banning socialist societies who disallow Tories? For heavens' sake chaps "get real". These decisions from so called academics play directly into the hands of the lunatics in the parties of the far right and gives them the feeble excuse they need to continue their mindless attacks on those of minority faiths, and ethnicity, a situation we could well do without. This creeping secularism is doing nothing at all to protect minority interests, it is harming Christianity and other faiths in equal measure.

Apparently, at this time of year, we are supposed to extend "peace and goodwill towards all men", shall we start within the educational establishments?

Suggested reading - Archbishop Cranmer November 18th.


The Times Online


Thursday, November 23, 2006

Stop Big Brother Now!

Growing unease at databases

Looks like I'm not the only one to feel uncomfortable over the "Big Brother" state being built by Blair.(Click picture to enlarge)

Hat tip to Beau Bo D'or


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Trow Quarry defences planned

Funding sought for revetment.

Despite my profound disagreement with South Tyneside District Council over it's handling of the Trow Quarry contamination issue (see my previous posts here), it is time to bury the hatchet and move on.

We have all know for a long time that a long term solution was necessary to curtail further coastal erosion at Graham Sands, South Shields, the area where contaminants are falling on to the beach.
The reports prepared for the public consultation all pointed towards the building of an armoured revetment of contained rocks and a compacted sub-base to lessen the effects of the rolling waves against the exposed face of the former landfill site.

At the time of the public furore I remember talking with Andrew Wainwright, the Council's Environmental Health Manager, at the Town Hall about possible solutions and the visual appearance of such a revetment. I was impressed with his local knowledge and determination to put the past behind and get on with the job of protecting this stretch of coastline. However, both he and I knew that the end result would never be pretty or as scenic as the present view, but there seems little in the way of alternatives. We cannot think about digging out the contents of the landfill, it would be fraught with environmental risks, similarly it would be nigh impossible in terms of the logistics and the costs to "cap" the site with a one metre thick layer of compacted clay (it would not be possible to contain the seaward edge).

So, reluctantly, we have to accept the proposed revetment and hope that the Council finds funding from an appropriate source as quickly as possible in order to allow the work to start.

The saga has already ran for far too long.


Shields Gazette.


Car Parking anger

Trial charges provoke visitors

As a borough we are doing quite well in promoting tourism throughout the spring and summer months. A host of free entertainment events, carnivals, music, dance, and the arts provided by South Tyneside District Council and others provide a welcome boost in visitors and an injection of cash to our local economy, the vast majority of visitors are to South Shields, and the vast majority of events are held at the coast, our greatest asset.

One only has to visit the Sea Front on any given Sunday during the season to understand how many people we are attracting to the town. Car parks are generally full, and the overflow car park on the "Dragon" (Bents Park) is also well used. No doubt the charges and fees for parking here raise a reasonable amount of revenue which will be used to maintain the car parks in a good condition. It is also worth remembering that the CCTV cameras should ensure that our visitors can park at the sea front assured that their vehicle will be safe.

However, we are used to having no charges at all on some of the car parks between November and March, when the trade in tourism is quite slack! People still come to the sea front, but many of them are locals rather than visitors, they come for some solitude, peace and quiet, they come to sit and watch the North Sea lapping against the beaches, they sit and read their books or newspapers, they watch the birds, they follow the progress of shipping in and out of the Tyne. They don't come in great numbers, and often sit only for around an hour or so, appreciating the beauty of our own coast. Occasionally there may be a visitor or two, perhaps returning to South Shields after a visit during the summer.

Unfortunately, someone within South Tyneside Council has decided to introduce "for a trial period" parking charges for all sea front car parks during this traditionally quiet winter period. Not surprisingly there have already been a few letters published in the Shields Gazette berating the idea.

It does seem to me that the best reason for introducing winter charges is one that will not be spoken of - a source of further revenue. I cannot think of an excuse or reason other than this that would be deemed acceptable by local motorists wishing to use these car parks in winter. As my picture (above) shows it is often not possible to park there at all, because high tides, high winds, and driving rain cause flooding at this time of year.

Any moves which result in deterring visitors to South Shields during the quietest time of the year (i.e. removing the incentive of free car parking) may jeopardize the success of the tourist drive during the summer months. I cannot see any point at all in driving people away, or making them feel as if they are being "fleeced" when it is not necessary.

I sincerely hope that the "boffin" who came up with this idea, and the committee which so sheepishly agreed to it, have a serious reappraisal either as soon as possible, or at the end of the trial period, and agree that it is wholly inappropriate to charge during the winter months.


More Big Brother (and I don't mean reality TV.)

Child index intrudes on privacy

I find myself, as each day goes by, further horrified by the creeping intrusion into the privacy of my family by organs of the state, and fear more and more the growth of databases created by our control freak Prime Minister Tony Blair. I often opined here about Blair's Big Brother State with it's obsession on collecting information about every facet of our daily lives, of the destruction of our personal information, and with it, our personal values and esteem. We are watched by millions of CCTV cameras, we are told that our biometric details will need to be carried in a microchip on an ID card, we will have our DNA source sampled if we ever have cause to help the police with their enquiries, and now our children are about to have the whole of their lives recorded on a Child Index, apparently for the benefit of those professionals who need to spot early warning signs of whatever it is they feel the need to intrude upon!

There are always good reasons why these big databases are built, of course, it is modernism (so we can't argue about that), it is for our safety and protection (it seems we can't look after it ourselves), it is in the interests of national security ( may as well scare us about the terrorist threats), it is to harmonise and rationalise existing sources of information (it is to look after more public service jobs), the list goes on and on. Yet, it seems we are prepared to sleep walk into this Orwellian nightmare without a care about who has access to this information, how secure it is, and how competant and effective the hardware is - and this government has a frightful record on I.T. systems.

In his latest drive to undermine the institution of the family and parenting, Tony Blair wishes to set up this 224 million pound database which a report for the Parliamentary Information Commissioner describes as something which will "waste millions of pounds, undermine parental authority, and actually put children in more danger". Experts in child protection, law and computers, who have written today's report, express astonishment that a Government which emphasises the importance of good parenting also plans to devalue the status of the mother and father with a Big Brother surveillance system which violates the law and is not secure.

Such a system may also hold inaccurate information, tarnishing families or children unfairly. "Families' privacy and autonomy is being shattered as the Government puts them all under surveillance," they say. "Government policy proposes treating all parents as if they cannot be trusted to bring up their children."

Doctors, schools and the police will have to alert the database to a wide range of "concerns". Two warning flags on a child's record could trigger an investigation.

In a leader in today's Daily Telegraph an excellent appraisal is made of the way in which working class family values and traditions have been steadily eroded to the point at which they have almost disappeared in this experiment in social engineering by Blair's government, and yet they always come up with more solutions to the problems which it appears they have created themselves! Today it's the "super nannies" from the Super State, of course chastisement won't be part of their brief, instead they will be educating errant parents on how to bring up children, we have yet to learn what form the enforcement of this will take. Some of the comments on the article are worth reading:

The obsession of the State with surveillance and their interference in the everyday life is deeply disturbing to me. The approach of attempting to monitor on greater and greater scales is truly absurd when dangers and threats need to be isolated and tackled in a discrete manner. The States obsessions pervade all aspects of interface - by monitoring your waste, how you travel - domestic and international - where you travel, your housing circumstances, raising of your children, etc, etc.
In virtually all cases of the "Social Engineering" contemplated by the article the States interference, has had devastatingly negative consequences.
In general and up to now, the monitoring and interference has certain impacts on normal law abiding citizens - those that require corrective actions or those from which the public need protection simply bypass the system in any event.
Having returned to this Country after a thirty year absence working internationally I am horified at the current level of unnecessary State interferences.
There must be meaningful action groups which address this matter of misdirection which in any case is symptomatic of incompetance.

Posted by Mike on November 22, 2006 8:53 AM

This bloke Blair is now turning out to be a power freak. Will this ludicrous Index record whether or not the child wears matching socks on a regular basis? One wonders what sinister conclusions will be drawn if not?
The various 'Big Brother' programmes may be a pathetic attempt at providing entertainment, but this scheme beggars belief.
Will someone, please, put an end to the delinquent mianderings of this ridiculous government?

Posted by Steve on November 22, 2006 8:33 AM

All of what you say is highly relevant and cogent .... so why is there a deafening silence, as usual, from the oppposition who should be telling us how they are going to dismanrtle asll this state apparatus and start to rebuild the notion of personal responsibility and the sort of moral and neighbourhood suppport and consensus that you describe.

Posted by anthony tucker on November 22, 2006 7:37 AM

The last comment is surely the most relevant, the next Tory government is going to have to work long and hard to wake up the majority of us who do not realise how pervasive the state has become, how overly big that it is, how much of our daily lives and income it consumes, how much of the national economy the state devours. There is a lot of dismantling to be done!

Meanwhile, if you are a motorist, don't get stopped by the police on the M62 if you're speeding - you will be asked to give your fingerprint (even though you have not committed a criminal offence) to add to yet another database, just where will it all end up? !!!


The Daily Telegraph

Iain Dale Guide to Blogging


Monday, November 20, 2006

Paper? You can't recycle that!

Shred or recycle-that's the choice.

On the one hand you would like to recycle, on the other hand (having listened to the advice) you would like to shred all of the letters, documents, and envelopes containing your personal details in order to protect your identity.

Now it seems that in some parts of this green and pleasant land you will be in a Catch 22 situation if you decide that you would like to do both. Certain of our local councils will not accept shredded paper for recycling, claiming that it makes a windblown mess, or it clogs up the dustcarts, or that shredding reduces the fibre lenghts in the paper!

As far as I am aware, this situation does not exist in South Shields, I have witnessed "shreddies" being put into cardboard boxes or large brown envelopes prior to depositing in the 'kerb it' recycling tote. However, if I am wrong, I am sure that Cllr. Michael Claire will make a statement to clarify the situation.

Someone is going to have to decide, do they want us to recycle or not!


The Daily Mail


Cllr. Claire has confirmed that recycling shredded paper is no problem at all in South Tynside, here is the advice he has gleaned:

In relation to our Kerb-It service we are able to accept shredded paper. The Council are very keen to recycle as much waste paper as possible to reduce our reliance on landfill.

As you can appreciate there is a possibility of the shredded paper becoming a litter issue when left outside homes and we advise residents of the following steps when recycling their shredded papers.

* If residents have a large quantity of shredded paper that they place the materials into a clear or preferably a paper bag. To minimise the potential for litter it is also suggested that householders place the bag into the bottom of their Kerb-It box.

* Those householders with smaller quantities of shredded paper are advised to layer the shreds between larger paper sheets or newspapers/magazines and place them at the bottom of the Kerb-It box.


Tories will say anything to get elected

Lord Saatchi rages!

As Maurice Saatchi he was the advertising guru responsible for helping the Tories get elected in 1979 and will be remembered for the iconic poster "Labour isn't working" (pictured). Now in a pamphlet produced for the Centre for Policy Studies entitled "In Praise of Ideology" he makes clear his disdain at the direction the party is moving in.

In the article he bemoans the decline of ideology and the "myth" of the centre ground, a place where parties will say anything to get elected; let me just recall, did someone once say that politicians "who stand in the middle of the road tend to get run over?"


The Daily Telegraph.


North-East Assembly moving.

It is worth noting that this non-elected and non-accountable North-East Regional Assembly is moving from it's premises at the Guildhall, Newcastle, to an office development on the Team Valley in Gateshead.

This body has an annual budget of two million pounds and counts among it's members Labour Councillors Paul Waggott and Iain Malcolm from our borough. We were never consulted on it's formation and when Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott held a referendum on the setting up of an elected assembly for the North-East he was rebuffed with a resounding NO vote from the electors. The defeat was so severe that it scuppered all of his plans for referenda in the rest of the country!

It is high time that the North-East Regional Assembly is brought to a close, it has little to offer the community that our own local councils cannot, it is a powerless, toothless, producer of hot air, and would not be missed!


The Northern Echo


Crime Partnership is definately in vogue now!

Sixteen arrests in Simonside!

It seems that since I started blogging about the lack of activity in the area of Crime Partnerships in South Tyneside the whole programme has taken off in a big way! The Shields Gazette reports today of a huge police and Council operation having taken place at the weekend on the Simonside Estate in South Shields. 11 men and 5 women were arrested for a variety of offences including possession of drugs, and a large quantity of cash was also found.

The police teams were accompanied by members of South Tyneside Council's Anti-Social Behaviour Unit and officers from South Tyneside Homes in an operation mirroring those that have previously taken place in Newcastle and North Tyneside. These operations are planned to take into account the benefits produced for the wider community in a troubled estate and to restore the public's confidence in Northumbria Police's Community efforts; local beat managers would have been instrumental in gathering evidence and supporting the local community in their efforts to reduce anti-social behaviour and improving the living conditions for hundreds of council tenants. Teams from South Tyneside Homes, the council's arms length housing management organisation, will have visited the addresses of those arrested, and others, to issue official agreed behavioural contracts, or to threaten the imposition of "demoted tenancies" ; this backing up of police action is to be applauded, it's just what we needed to see.

However, the whole exercise may have been in vain if figures published in the Newcastle Journal this morning are correct. 54% of those found in possession of illegal drugs were given nothing more than a caution by Northumbria Police, and 13% of offenders who admitted to more serious crimes were also let off with a caution!

If we are at last entering into an era of real meaningful crime partnerships then surely the public deserve a better response than this!


Shields Gazette
The Journal


Sunday, November 19, 2006

NHS future.

More cash = better results?

Do you ever wonder why after so many years of increased investment and year upon year growing focus from Blair's government that the NHS is still not perceived as being as good as it could be?

  • Do you believe, like me, that throwing money at the NHS is not the simple answer?
  • Do you believe, like me, that the NHS has become a growth industry for pen pushers and consultancy services?
  • Do you believe, like me, that the extra money given to the NHS fails to reach the front line troops (nurses, doctors, ancilliary staff)?
  • Do you believe, like me, that many hospitals are suffering a confidence crisis because of the constant "target chasing" and "changing priorities"?

It looks as though our views are more widely held than previously thought, and now David Cameron, the Conservatives Leader, and regular NHS user, is looking into the matter too. It won't be easy for him (or us) to come up with a solution to the problem when he forms the next government. However, on viewing his latest video, you do get the impression that he intends to listen to more people near the bottom of the pile, and listen less to those near the top!


I.D. Cards (update)

Now a bipartisan issue?

I was not surprised that my post on Friday illustrated a widely held belief that I.D. cards are not such a good idea, but I did not realise that the issue is being debated with vigour within the Labour Party too.

I have found this piece on Labour Home where the poster makes the point that ID cards will become an issue which rivals the hatred generated by the introduction of the Poll Tax!



Beau Bo D'or passes go!

satirical image by Beau Bo D'or

A great piece of artistic satire from Beau Bo D'or, click the image to go to his blog.


Friday, November 17, 2006

Big government leads to poor government!

"Small" government is required for real growth.

I have always believed that big government leads to an inefficient economy as the public sector sees stronger growth than the private sector, and this is found both in central, regional, and local government. The ratio at which the public sector consumes economic energy grows exponentionally and stifles vibrant economic activity.

Today the Institute of Economic Affairs makes a report which savages the 'predatory' tax regimes of Gordon Brown and argues that if public spending, which now accounts for 48% of the economy, was seriously curtailed, then economic output would be 1,000 billion pounds higher today! Yes 1,000 billion pounds!

The report argues that the optimal size of public spending in a mixed economy is around 35% of the national wealth.

But we all knew that NuLabour was going to give us a big dose of tax and spend didn't we?


The Daily Mail


15.65 million pound windfall

Council gets cash injection

Any cash handouts from Gordon Brown to South Tyneside Council are generally to be welcomed, however, they usually come with strings attached. Generally speaking grants given to local councils these days come with the proviso that the money must be expended on specific targets, it's a mind set with Tony Blair's government!

Today our Labour Leader in South Tyneside Cllr. Paul Waggott is gleefully rubbing his hands at the prospect of 16.65 million pounds coming our way from the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund. The cash is earmarked for specific areas as outlined in the Shields Gazette report this evening.

Perhaps we should be casting our eyes and minds forwards to next year's municipal budget recognising the good work being done by council officers in identifying and making decent savings in this year's revenue account. Perhaps there is a case to be made for downward adjustments in next year's spending plans in light of these additional grants, coupled with further reductions in areas that will cause the least disruption to services. I argued last year that we should be making plans for greater use of administrative "outsourcing" (something that the spin doctors now call strategic partnerships) and further staff reductions through natural wastage. It really is possible to tailor a budget that would provide good services for around the same expenditure as this year. Reserve funds and contingencies need to be replenished so it would be "prudent" to save wherever possible.

It is usual for the Labour Party in South Tyneside to give us all 'options' in a public consultation exercise each year as to how much we would like our council tax to rise. As if we are all generally agreed that a rise in tax is necessary and welcome!

  • What would you like?
  • A 1.5% increase?
  • A 2.5% increase?
  • A 4.5% increase?

Well how about asking if we would like a zero increase next year?

How about asking if we would prefer a 1.5% decrease for a change?

These things are possible, and desirable if we are to continue to attract inward investment and jobs in South Tyneside, if are to continue seeing an increase in house building, and if we wish to retain a stable population and workforce.

I think our councillors, of all parties, ought to be questioning WHY spending needs to be increasing year after year, they should be asking HOW we can expect the local economy to grow and prosper under conditions of heavy taxation, they should be asking HOW MUCH the council tax payer is prepared to put up with. They should also be remembering that the taxes raised come from around just 25% of the population of South Tyneside.

Curly says, let's see a sensible budget for next year!


Shields Gazette.


Biometric ID Passports "cracked"

Your identity under threat

Those who have long campaigned for the introduction of a secure ID card containing our biometric details should be dismayed by the news today of a further success in "cracking" the RF ID chip on newly issued British Passports.

Liberal democrats are already calling for the repeal of a host of recently introduced laws and include the abolition of ID cards. Today in the Guardian it is revealed that the new passports are far less secure than originally thought, and that anyone with a knowledge of RF encryption, bluetooth, and computer systems can readily read the details from the chip embedded in a passport and prepare to clone a new one with your identity. This will make it extremely easy for criminals or terrorists to pass through the most stringent of border controls. Far more worrying is the apparent lack of concern from the Home Office to the charge that the encryption used is far less secure than it needs to be.

Those in the SayNo2ID campaign will be bolstered by this news, and those libertarians amongst us should be raising the profile of this issue. The risks of having virtually all of your necessary identity details embedded into the chip on one identity card are enormous, the risks of losing this identity to someone of criminal intent grow daily, and yet the government still want to tell us it is all for our own good!

We need to tell them that it is our identity, not their's to gamble with, and that we intend to keep it for ourselves!


The Guardian


Thursday, November 16, 2006

British Library shuns Gospels appeal

No temporary exhibit!

South Shields MP David Miliband has followed up this blog's appeal to have the Lindisfarne Gospels loaned to St. Paul's in Jarrow for a temporary exhibition and today contacted me with the disappointing news that the British Library will not consider such a loan until at least 2014. The Minister for Culture, David Lammy wrote:

"As you may be aware the Library has loaned the Gospels to the North-East twice in the last ten years, in 1996 and 2000, both times to the Laing Gallery in Newcastle. However, following a peer-reviewed study of the condition of the Gospels conducted in 2004, which found that the Gospels were more fragile than previously thought, the British Library Board took a decision not to consider any further temporary loans of the Gospels until 2014. The British Library is an arm's length body and as such I have no locus to intervene in this matter."

Lammy goes on to say that he will be meeting Roberta Blackman-Woods MP to discuss the campaign for the permanent return of the Gospels to the North-East.

With the recent announcement that Monkwearmouth-Jarrow will be Britain's nomination for World Heritage status, David Miliband has pledged to continue to pursue the matter.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Council savings reach 2.5 million!

Budget savings without pain.

I am pleased to note that bosses of South Tyneside District Council have managed to save just over 2.5 million pounds so far this year, and are on target to make identified savings of 4.7 million pounds by the end of the financial year. The savings have been made using a variety of methods including voluntary redundancies, a moratorium on recruitment, and some early retirements. An efficency and performance drive led to more value for money budgeting.

The great thing is the admission that the savings made between April and September of this year have had no detrimental impact at all on services.

As I argued at this same point last year, IT CAN BE DONE!

However, the 4.9 million pound overspend of last year has only been covered by taking money from reserve funds, and this will have to be replaced. If our political leaders and leading officers put their minds to it a budget could be formulated for next year with a reduction in overall spending. It would require, perhaps, a little pain to produce a lot of gain, and instead of chasing every award and prize for excellence and being the very best, perhaps we should just aim to provide the good standards which we have. There will be no complaints from the council tax payers if the Labour Group come up with proposals for a 'freeze' in council tax payments next year, if only to finally get the borough's finances in order.

The opposition parties on South Tyneside Council NEED to work together to help achieve this aim, the ruling group will respond only to strong, reasonable, and well thought out plans that make it plain to the electorate that the opposition can provide a real alternative to Labour.

The elctorate will be less than pleased if the Labour Party come asking us what size of increase we would like in our tax next year, especially if it is perceived to be needed to replenish the reserve fund and pay for the squandering of last year!


South Shields girl killed in Iraq

Where is the exit strategy?

It is with great regret and sadness that we learned today that amongst the latest British casualties in the Iraq is South Shields based Staff Sergeant Sharon Elliot. The 34 year old was killed on Sunday by a bomb blast which destroyed the patrol boat carrying herself and three colleagues on the Shatt-al-Arab near Basra.
Sharon was serving with the Intelligence Corps and had been in Iraq for just one week after volunteering for the posting.

Curly would like to express his sympathy and solidarity with Sharon's immediate family in South Shields.

Whilst many of us initially agreed with the aims and objectives of the mission to oust Saddam Hussein, by military means, and were prepared to support the 'special relationship' with America, it has become increasingly clear that the evidence produced to support the resolutions at the U.N. and debates in Parliament was at best flimsy and at worst totally false. Our own MP David Miliband had serious reservations at first about the issue, but supported the government out of loyalty.

I think it is now unacceptable to just sit back and watch Iraq spiral out of control as Shias battle with Sunnis; if the Americans have a plan to bolster the fledgling government of Iraq and are confident that they can help create a stable viable democratic country, then let them execute that plan. What Britain needs is something completely different, we need an exit strategy, even if it involves coercing other nations to fill the void left by our troops. We have done our bit to add bite to the U.N. resolutions, it's time some other nations took up the standard.

If there is one thing that Tony Blair should NOT leave as part of his 'legacy' it is the British Army in Iraq and Afghanistan. The prolongued stay of our boys and girls in these foreign posts is having a detrimental affect on security at home, and is providing even more encouragement to the extremist Islamic terrorist groups within our midst.

The Prime Minister should be acting NOW to ensure that the next government of this country doesn't have this mess to sort out!


Shields Gazette.


Englishman's home is no longer his castle

"Hard man" Reid talks tough

Expect to hear in the Queen's Speech of a Bill that will give police superintendants the power to have homeowners evicted from their properties if it can be proved that anti-social behaviour is annoying the neighbours.

We can already evict tenants from council homes after a series of acceptable behaviour contracts, demoted tenancies, and ASBOs, but to evict someone from their own home might prove to be a little more tricky. Home Secretary, former communist, John Reid is proposing to do just this. However, anyone evicted under his new tough regime will be rehoused by the local council, probably in bed and breakfast accomodation at our expense, for up to six months. Just who would look after the homeowners property during this time? Would the homeowner be willing to carry on paying mortgage repayments during this time? Would they want to return?

Perhaps we should question why the homeowner should pay the penalty for the "crimes" of one of his/her family,this is tantamount to guilt by association rather than by proven evidence.

On the same day that this plan was revealed the Home Office also astonish us all by letting us know that they plan to impose 50 pound fines on parents who allow children to drop litter, and that thieves, shoplifters, and other criminals will be allowed to make an apology to escape punishment for their offences!

NuLabour's message, if I recall correctly, was "tough on crime - tough on the causes of crime", more like tough talk, tough talk, tough talk, tough talk,........... ad infinitum.

Somehow, I have doubts that Reid's rhetoric will ever see the light of day in a printed statute!


The Daily Mail


Miliband's world this week.

MP making emissions over Africa.

Environment Secretary, and South Shields MP, David Miliband, is attending a conference in Nairobi, Kenya this week along with representatives of 189 other countries to discuss the effects of climate change on the African continent. Can't imagine how much carbon was emitted flying such entourages to Africa, so I hope that some "offsetting" is taking place. One might have thought that modern technology could have been used to set up a huge video-conference instead. Typically he has described binding targets for carbon emissions reductions as "silly" and claims that a more "sensible" approach is to have annual reporting back to the Commons on a medium term basis!

He has been meeting pastoralists ( another name for a nomadic) who are struggling to access decent water supplies, and dancing with them too! One reporter admits that Miliband "is not the worst dancer to have been seen in the Cabinet!". The Guardian has been following the event and publishing regular podcasts from David's trip, you can listen to one here, where it sounds as though he is surrounded by an excited group of schoolgirls.

Meanwhile, back at home, he has come under attack for his failure in the last six months to use any form of public transport in London, despite telling us that we need to get out of our cars. Liberal Democrat MP Bob Russell submitted a parliamentary question which was answered by Junior Minister Barry Gardiner on Miliband's behalf:

"Mr. Miliband has not used the London Underground, tram or light railway services or buses in connection with his ministerial duties."

Miliband explained that he walked so fast that in London it wouldn't be worth his while to catch a bus (brings to mind the image of Superman running past an express train!) A spokesman for his constituency office defended him by saying that he uses the train to travel from London to Newcastle (of course he does, it's free) and gets a metro to Chichester and then walks to his South Shields home from there.

So keep an eye open on Thursday. If you see a Harry Potter look-alike weighed down with gifts from Africa, a large suitcase, and half a dozen ministerial red boxes, tramping in the rain up Dean Road, South Shields, tip him the nod, tug your forelock and wish him well, he's doing his bit to save the planet!

A few short telephone calls to local taxi companies revealed that the minister may not be too keen on walking at all, staff at Bridgeway Taxis in Victoria Road claimed that he had an account at rival firm Westoe Taxis, however a spokesman there refused to "confirm or deny" that Mr. Miliband had been carried in their vehicles, "if we had that information we would not release it to anyone" I was told.

Curly thinks that a certain South Shields taxi company ought to "fess up" to carrying the Secretary of State from Chichester Metro station to a destination near the Readhead Park, don't you?

Mr. Miliband is back in the constituency to bang Labour heads together and make pastoralist peace with the angry residents of Laygate. You might catch them all doing a walkabout in Bowman Place on Friday 1st. December if you are lucky.

Telephones have obviously been ringing.


Shields Gazette
The Guardian
The Daily Mail


Monday, November 13, 2006

Christian Muslim Forum warns - leave Christmas alone.

Muslims defend Christmas.

I was heartened to hear that the Christian Muslim Forum has called for Christmas to be respected as a Christian festival, their view being that the erosion of the Christian message and the drip feed of secularism is leading to a backlash against muslims in our society, and playing into the hands of right wing extremists.

In a statement the forum said:

"Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus and we wish this significant part of the Christian heritage of this country to remain an acknowledged part of national life. The desire to secularise religious festivals is offensive to both of our communities."

The statement, signed by the forum's chairman, the Bishop of Bolton, the Rt Rev David Gillett, and its vice-chairman, Dr Ataullah Siddiqui, urged society to promote religious freedom.

"Those who use the fact of religious pluralism as an excuse to de-Christianise British society unthinkingly become recruiting agents for the extreme Right. They provoke antagonism towards Muslims and others by foisting on them an anti-Christian agenda they do not hold."

Curly whole heartedly agrees and notes that last year South Tyneside Council made it plain that they would not be joining other councils in excising the word "Christmas" from it's celebrations. We are proud of our multi-cultural heritage in this borough and we should be portraying this as an example to those who try to offend nobody but succeed in offending many.


Daily Telegraph.


Mayor to vote for scouts

South Tyneside Scouts bid for lottery cash.

South Tyneside District Scouts are bidding for over 58,000 pounds worth of lottery grants to help them bring West Hall in Cleadon up to scratch. South Tyneside's Mayor Cllr. Ed Malcolm is backing the bid and urging people to cast a vote for the youngsters as they battle with Durham's Wildlife Education Centre to win the cash. The bids will be featured in Tyne Tees Television's regional news tomorrow evening.

The scouts hope to refurbish and extend their bunk house in West Hall so that they can accomodate facilities for both boys and girls as well as disabled youngsters. I wonder if the Mayor was a Boy Scout?

Scouting has moved on a great deal since Baden Powell's days and the amount of activities has grown diversely, I remember as a young lad being a member of two church based South Shields scout troops, the 2nd. St. Mary's organised by the Revd. "Dickie" Hilditch, and the 29th. St. Francis run by the Revd. "Bert" Alderson. Both provided an outlet for young boys to let off steam and energy as well as adding to our education and instilling some small aspects of personal discipline. Scouting seemed to be a "noble" pursuit and we felt a sense of honour and self importance when standing in front of the whole group to make that oath "to God and the Queen".

For young lads who, for the best part of the week, kicked footballs around the back lanes and investigated the wrecked interiors of partially demolished terraced housing, it gave an added outlet to our energies. We always tried to be well turned out, and mothers meticulously laundered kerchiefs and jumpers on a weekly basis. Little did they know that we were learning "responsible" knifecraft, or splicing ropes for "irresponsible" bondage of tiresome bullying tyrants from the next lane!

The best part of the year of course, other than being awarded badges of achievement (more sewing for mothers) was the annual camp. I remember two particular camps that I was involved with during my spell with the 29th. One at Elsdon Deer Park in Northumberland was notable for the amount of adders found basking on the rocks in our midst, then there was the episode with "Saus" Rossiter who refused to wash the dishes or clean groundsheets. His punishment was to be laid on a ground sheet, bound hand and foot, and pegged down in the sun, while we told him outragious lies about the number of adders slithering around. He washed dishes diligently after that!
On the last day of camp we found that we were over supplied with butter, so seven or eight packs were melted down in a huge "dixie" and we were treated to the most delicious pile of chips that I can remember.

The second camp that sticks in my mind was in a farmers field at a place called Chop Gate just south of Stoksely on the North Yorkshire Moors. It was memorable because I and two others gained our "backwoodsman badge". David Flannaghan, Robert Glendenning and myself were close to the stage of trying to become Ranger Scouts, before moving on to the Queen's Scout badge, we were despatched from the camp with a large orange, a large grapefruit, a pound of plain flour, a gallon of water, a box of matches, our knives, and a ball of string each. We were given one map between the three of us and told that the rest of the camp would be moving shortly to a new location 15 miles away. It was our task to survive for five days and nights on the moors using the materials we had, plus our initiative, then meet the others at the new location near Helmsely. (We were not to know that our every move was being watched and noted by two experienced Ranger Scouts).

We set out at mid-day and followed the track of a stream towards our destination. We didn't get too far away on the first day, perhaps three miles at most, then we had to make the decision to stop and make shelter. We cut down long thin branches from a tree and lashed them together to make a U-shaped framework around the base of a large tree, tall grasses and reeds were woven into this frame to make it watertight, and a hinged "door" constructed close to the tree. Our biggest mistake was to remove our shirts as we laboured in the heat, we all got terribly sunburned and later our backs blistered.

Shelter now built, it was time to make a fire, the oranges and grapefruits were cut in half and the insides devoured, the two halves were then used to boil water in. We made a paste with the flour, wound it onto twigs and cooked it over the embers of the fire, when you are hungry anything tastes good! Shortly we settled down for the night with me sleeping in the narrow end of the shelter, furthest from the tree, probably because I was the smallest of the three.

It was during the darkness of the night that I awoke in terror as I felt "something" chewing my toes! I screamed out, and we all jumped! Whatever it was (it turned out to be an errant pony) was also startled and ran off, it's hooves caused the ground to shake beneath us. That first night was not good. However the second and third days were more profitable as we quickly established the most efficient means of making shelter and fire, and we became more adept at catching birds and rabbits to feed us. Bob was skilled at killing, skinning, and cooking! "Flan", on the other hand, had been a little distracted and appeared distant, he worried us greatly by sloping off for a walk on the third night. We had no idea where he went, we had no torches, so were unable to follow him, but he was quite determined that he knew where he was going. For a seventeen year old, he had found a sense of adventure. He returned in the early hours carrying a size 34b bra - yes "Flan the man" had found a Girl Guide camp!

Eventually on the fifth morning we were "accosted" by Father Alderson, quite out of the blue, like Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, and he took us the last couple of miles to the rest of the troop at their new base, and what tales we had to tell!

It wasn't long before we received our badges back in South Shields and were ready to start new and more testing trials. I wonder if scouting is as good now as it was then?

If you have any scouting or camping experiences to share, please leave a comment.

You can view lots of information about South Tyneside Scouts here, and learn about the Big Lottery Funds Peoples Millions here.

Do make the effort to vote for South Tyneside Scouts and give lots of local youngsters the opportunity to grow within themselves and advance their potential as great citizens.

Three words for Ed Malcolm...............DIB, DIB, DIB!


Shields Gazette


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