Sunday, 20 September 2020

The Tweets of the Week in the London Borough of Barnet -20/09/2020

 So what have our local tweeters been up to this week? What has been happening in our corner of paradise?

1. I always find this sort of local story fascinating

2. Nice to see there is some culture locally!

3. The highlight of Clarence Mitchell's career IMHO was when he wrote the local music column in the Barnet Times! Here is a slightly less well known story he coverd ;) He's a good guy, always very supportive of local bands

4. This is a story we've been following in this feature for far too long. It seems like there is some news


5. Seems like some repairs are urgently needed to Edgwares roads


6. How are your fruit and veg doing? Donalds are looking in fine fettle!


7. This is a very sad reminder of the loss of agenius


8. Need a test, you can get one today at Brent Cross if you hurry


9.We agree


10. Support your local artists. Why not commission a work? Our local music studios have



That's all folks!


Saturday, 19 September 2020

The Saturday List #280 - Ten foods that seemed really exotic in the 1970's

On Wednesday I published a blog which received the best reaction of any blog for many a moon. It was entitled "How the 70's was the decade where the British discovered food". I detailed how the culinary habits of the British underwent a step change in flavours and experimentation in the decade and things such as garlic suddenly became part of the British array of cooking ingredients (previously it was salt, pepper, brown sauce and mustard). 

Some of the comments left on Facebook mentioned exotic dishes that we embraced in the 1970's. I thought I'd list my ten favourites. When I say my ten favourites, this is favourites as in, ones it seems amazing that they seemed exotic now!

1. Spaghetti Bolognese.

It seems bizarre now that a Spag Bol was ever seen as 'exotic', but I well remember the first time my mum cooked it. My Dad's RAF squadron had been stationed in Foggia in Italy in 1944, and he'd developed a love of Italian food and drink (far better than the flat rations the RAF had in North Africa). He told me a story of how when the RAF took over an Italian air base in North Africa, they kept all the Italian cooks etc on the staff and were the best fed airmen in the RAF for a couple of months. He taught us how to wrap the Spaghetti around the fork and advised me never to eat Spaghetti on the first date. I was about ten at the time. It was a bit of a revelation.

2. McDonalds.

This is another one that probably seems insane to anyone born after 1985 that anyone could see a Big Mac as exotic, but that is exactly what it was. When McDonalds opened its  restaurant in Golders Green there were mile long queues to by Big Mac and chips. It was seen as proper American burgers. We sort of felt that we'd become Starsky and Hutch if we ate McDonalds. I always thought the Golders Green branch was the first in the UK, but it was actually in Woolwich

3. Rum and Raisin Ice Cream.

For those of us born and raised around Mill Hill, Edgware and Burnt Oak, Ice Cream was a 99 whip from Tonibell. I loved the Raspberry sauce version with a flake. But over the road from us, lived a Jewish family, the Lewis's who were great friends. Their Dad, an accountant and man of great tastes, acquired a new Citroen and was incredibly proud of his motor, so he decided to take his two boys Johnny and Frank and me, for a special treat. We drove down to Camden Town to Marine Ices for a special Ice cream. Mr Lewis said "You'll never have tasted anything this good in your life". He recommended that we got a couple of different tastes. I think I got Strawberry and Rum and Raisin. The Rum and Raisin was out of this world. Mr Lewis also took us up for the opening of Dayvilles 32 flavours in Edgware as I recall. He pronounced that it wasn't as good as Marine Ices, and I trusted his judgement. What was even better was when we arrived back from Marine Ices and I told my family about it, my Dad bundled us all in the car and I got a second helping. I can remember telling my sister that it was the best day of my life.  I always had a soft spot for Citroen cars after that day! (Pic Courtesy of Marine Ices).

4. Vesta Packet Chow Mein.

As we discovered exotic foods, the supermarkets jumped on the bandwagon. The leaders in the field of making food seem exotic were packet food specialists Vesta. The idea was that you got a pound of mince, chucked in some Vesta sauce and hey presto, you got a plate of food that tasted as good as the local Chinese takeaway. I guess there was  two year period in the early to mid seventies, when we actually fell for it and didn't realise that it simply made the mince taste a bit less bland. I sort of liked the Vesta sauces. My mum and Dad would always have a bottle of wine over dinner with them, to feel as if they were on holiday. Often we'd have them on the day the Whickers World Travel show was on. It sort of made us feel like we'd been on holiday somewhere.

5. Arctic roll.

Anyone who is my age will have fond memories of Arctic Roll. The highlight of the Primary School day was pudding. If it was Tapioca, the day was a disaster. Then some time around 1970, one day we were given Arctic Roll. It was unlike anything we'd had before. It was ice cream and cake all in one. It seemed impossible to make something so good and have it served at school. I imagined that it was what polar bears ate for breakfast (not realising they'd rather eat me!). 

6. Chicken in a basket.

Around 1973, there was a craze for 'chicken in a basket' in pubs. I've no idea where it came from or why it was served in a basket, but it seemed rather exotic. A plain old bit of grilled chicken down the cafe seemed rather dull. The chips had to be the thin, crispy type rather than the chip shop fatties. 

7. Mushroom Vol-au-Vents. 

Sometime around 1971, my parents attended a party where Vol-au-Vents were served. These were fluffy pastry with a mushroom gloop in the middle. They were delicious. My mother immediately decided that we needed a party. She spent the week practising, which meant we got a welcomed change from the usual boiled potatoes and tripe and onions, that she'd inflict on us when she was too bored to cook anything tasty. For some reason, in around 1990, Vol-Au-Vents became inedible gunge. I cannot fathom quite what happened. 

8. Coq au_vin.

Chicken in wine, to give it its Anglicised name. My Mum loved this, my Dad (I suspect he was being polite) also lived it. I hated it. I've never been a fan of meat in gungy sauces. But my mum was incredibly proud of her efforts. I've not really thought about this dish since the 1970's, but researching this I see that the recipes recommend using red wine. Mum always did it with white wine. It was one of the dishes that made me understand the British wariness of 'foreign muck'.

9. Lamb Kebabs. 

After the war, my Dad had spent four years working as a commercial pilot, based in Beirut. He loved kebabs. I can well recall a trip down the Edgware Road with him when I was about ten, for a kebab. We went to a Lebanese restaurant, my mum was away with  my sisters. He soon got into a discussion with the owner, who was amazed by his knowledge of Beirut and Lebanese politics. We got VIP treatment and more meat than I'd ever imagined. I believed that kebabs were the food of the Gods. The next Kebab I had was in Alki's in Colindale in around 1981. It wasn't quite the same, tasty though it was. 

10. Sweet and Sour Pork.

Our family treats in the 60's and 70's would usually be a trip to Burnt Oak, to the Chinese Restaurant on the High Street. We'd have pancake rolls, sweet and sour pork, beanshoots, crispy king prawns, special fried rice and finish off with lychees. The best bit was the sweet and sour pork. In our house, Pork would be a Sunday joint or a chop. To have it batter with a bright red sauce that burned your tongue with its acidity and sweetness was simply exotic beyond belief. The restaurant was painted blue, had Chinese murals and paper lanterns. It's what I imagine turn of the last century opium dens and brothels were like. It was full of cigarette smoke and working class families on a night out. I loved it. I love chinese food but the restaurants simply don't have that vibe. These days they have clean lines and no mystique. 

I almost feel sorry for the kids of today, who's idea of food is to order sushi on line. There really is no voyage of discovery for them!

Friday, 18 September 2020

The Friday Joke - 18-09-2020

 Specially dedicated to my Darling wife Clare, the love of my life. Have a great weekend

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

How the 70's was the decade where the British discovered food

The 1960's was the decade of the sexual revolution. Legal changes such as the decriminalising of homosexuality, legalisation of abortion and the advent of the pill lead to a complete change in the stuffy attitudes of young people in Great Britain to sex. But while all of this fun and frolicking was going on, a visitor from 2020 would be amazed at the bland cuisine that we all ate in the 1960's. The 1970's dawned with huge excitement. Sadly the decade was not a fun decade like the 60's, but it was the decade where the British discovered that food was to be enjoyed and experimented with. At the start of the decade, Pubs generally didn't serve food, garlic was frowned upon and onions were largely only served with liver. Anything vegetable that wasn't boiled to disintegration was deemed uncooked and any sauce on any meat or fish was deemed foreign muck. Puddings were apple pie and custard or spotted dick. The high streets proliferated with cafes serving bacon sarnies, industrial strength tea and if you asked for a coffee you got a spoonful of Nescafe. For many coffee was seen as the poor relation of tea, the only advantage being that it could be made instantly, without the need for a strainer for the leaves, a pot and without waiting for it to brew, just a teaspoon of powder and voila!

Of course we had places such as Bar Italia doing great things, but these were seen as strange places catering for people from other places. Takeaway food was pretty much Fish and Chips, if you were adventurous, you would have a pie. In Mill Hill, there was an exotic Chinese restaurant called the Kwan Yin (where the Good Earth now sits). It was incredibly exotic and expensive. There was also a Greek restaurant called La Katerina, although 99% of the dishes sold would be Steak and Chips, which was pretty much as exotic as it got. 

Both of these restaurants were strictly for special occasions. The most popular eating venue was Chowens, on the site of where the Abbey National now stands. It served cream cakes, tea, coffee and hot chocolate with cream. It was popular with kids and old ladies. There was Sid's Cafe, where the Mill Hill Tandoori now sits, which was primarily for builders and labourers to have breakfast and lunch. I used to love it. On a December morning, it would be packed, steaming, full of cigarette smoke and would provide not only hearty food, but warmth from the incessant rain and cold outside. As I recall, there was no such thing as a "Full English breakfast". It was just  bacon, sausage, egg and beans with toast. I've no idea when the "Full English" was added. Lunch was often dishes such as liver, onions and gravy or Pork chops, mash and peas. There would be a big plastic tomato in the middle of the table, full of ketchup and salt and pepper on the table in chipped glass dispensers. The tables were made of chipped veneer and the floors were lino. There would be a large tea urn and a massive tea pot. Often men would be reading papers, many such cafe's had calendars on the wall with girls in various stages of undress. On the rare occasion a woman would nip in, she would discretely find a table out of the eyeline of such things. 

Being taken to the cafe as a child in the 1960's by my Dad was perhaps the greatest thing I could imagine. It seemed to me that when you could go to the cafe on your own, you were a man. There were no airs and graces and the quality of the cafe was judged by the size of the portions. What intrigued me most was the shenanigans that were clearly occurring. Whenever my Dad would take me in, he'd always be approached by men speaking in riddles. Pound notes and packages would exchange hands, with an invocation not to mention this to my mother. I had no idea what was going on. It wasn't drugs, sometimes it would be cheap bottles of scotch, cut price steaks, or cheap cigarettes. I suspect that the only reason my Dad ever went to the cafe was to transact such business. It certainly wasn't to eat food of quality.  I suspect that rationing and the war had robbed the British of their interest in food as anything other than as sustenance. 

The sixties ended and the new decade started with increasing prosperity. Cheap charter holiday took us to places such as Spain, where the food was definitely not tasteless slop (although canny locals and expats soon cottoned on that this was a great way to make money) meant people started to take a bit more interest in food. When Idi Amin expelled the nations Asian population, many of these highly successful businessmen spotted an opportunity on the UK's high streets. Pubs shut at 11pm, but you could serve alcohol with food. They soon cottoned on that the British would buy a curry and a few beers at the end of a night out. The British found that lager and curry was the perfect mix. People who ten years earlier would have labelled such food 'foreign muck', suddenly found that a lamb madras, rice and naan was delicious, especially after a night in the pub. The supermarkets soon woke up to the fact that there was a market for this. 

Companies such as Vesta sold packets of curry sauce, just add water and you can turn your pork chop into a delicious curry! The Chinese community also started to move out of the West End. Anglicised Chinese dishes such as Chow Mein, served in silver aluminium containers started to become popular. The mix of Garlic, spices and sweet sauces proved irresistible. We fell in love with Spring Rolls, Spare Ribs and Sweet and Sour Pork. For many of us, no night out was complete without a night in the 'Curry house' or a takeaway from the Chinese.

Pub owners, seeing that there was a money to be made in food also started to respond. Locally, the Railway in Edgware was perhaps the trail blazer. They set up a carvery, which had queue's around the block on Sunday. 

Pubs realised that they could make big profits from 'pub menus'.  Established working class pubs were transformed into food branded chains, often quite unsuccessfully, one such local establishment was The Royal Scot at Apex Corner. 

In the 70's this food would tend to be  Chicken in a basket with chips and 'ploughmans lunch'. When I did a course to become a certified licensee, I found that the Ploughmans lunch was invented purely to provide a food option that could be served with minimum effort. Scotch Eggs and pork pies were also popular early 1970's snacks. For a period, every pub had a big jar of pickled eggs. For many of us, it would be a pickled egg and a bag of ready salted crisps for lunch. As pubs got their act together, dishes such as ham, egg and chips took over. The holy grail was to have food that people who couldn't cook could prepare. Whilst the food generally was no better than cafe food in the early 70's, it established the concept that we would eat in food.

The 70's also saw the start of the rise of the cookery program. They had existed in the 60's, but hosts such as Fanny Craddock were unadventurous, and largely spent shows explaining how to boil eggs and make omlettes. The genre was redefined by The Galloping Gourmet, Grahame Kerr. He was the man who introduced the UK to sauces and flavours.

The genie was out of the bottle. My Mum subscribed to a magazine that was widely advertised on TV called Supercook. She'd try these recipes out on us, often scrimping and not adding all of the spices as "we wouldn't like them", but we had such treats as Duck A La Orange and Gazpacho. I vividly recall my Dad going nuts when he proudly go served Gazpacho and flounced of saying "I'm not eating cold soup". My mum was really upset as she'd put a lot of effort into it. After a weeks sulking from my mother, he realised that his role was to praise the dishes, no matter how much he disliked them. In truth, most were ok and some were excellent. I remember the first time she served Chicken Kiev, which now sounds quite naff, but then tasted like the food of the Gods.

Desserts also evolved beyond recognition. In 1969, you'd be offered Apple Pie, but during the 70's we saw all manner of innovation. The two big dishes that I recall are cheesecake and Black Forest Gateaux. My mother got a packet mix of Cheesecake. My Dad complained that he didn't want cheese for pudding, he wanted something sweet! He was quite bemused as to why it was called cheese when it didn't contain any. He loved Black Forest Gateaux straight away. Strangely, I've always been immune to the charms of these dishes. For me, I still prefer the stodgy British traditional dishes.

Snacks are another thing that massively changes. At the turn of the decade, there were three main snacks. Crisps, peanuts and Twiglets. The 70's saw all manner of newfangled snacks appear. Quavers and Wotsits are the ones that spring to mind. It seemed that all such snacks had to be bright orange and taste of chemicals. I suspect that the early versions had semi addictive E numbers, as the local kids would go mad for such things and even have punch ups over them. 

By the end of the decade, the traditional British Cafe was in decline. In the mid 70's MacDonalds arrived, the first one being in Golders Green. There were queues around the block. You could walk in and walk out a minute later with a burger, fries and a drink. There were a plethora of copyists, such as Burger King, Wimpey, Jennys.

All of these stole a big chunk of the working mens lunch market. By the end of the 70's, there were no traditional cafe's in Mill Hill Broadway, The Wimpy was the place to get a quick bite. The eating options included the Mill Hill Tandoori, that had two busy periods, sober diners at 7.30pm and drunks from 11pm. The Good Earth had replaced the Kwan Yin as our Chinese sit down and we also had The Moon House takeway on Station Road. La Katarina, was busier than ever. As mentioned, The Wimpy was the fast food restaurant of choice. Chowans was still selling teas and cakes, the coffee generation had yet to arrive.

As for cooking at home. In 1972, Budgens arrived. This big supermarket had a deli counter. The range of food on the Broadway improved beyond recognition. Whilst Walton, Hassle and Port had long provided a great deli service at a price, it seemed like you could get anything at Budgens. I can remember a big thing when they started stocking Kiwi Fruit. I proudly bought some home, which my Dad had a massive allergic reaction to, claiming I'd tried to kill him. Budgens spelled the end of the Greengrocers and smaller supermarkets in the Broadway. They had a wider range and were generally cheaper. The Fishmongers and the Butchers did better. We are lucky to still have  Gerard in the Daws Lane, with his amazing sausages and organic meat, but there were four when Budgens opened. With Budgens, it became easier to make more interesting food. They stocked Lentils, the Deli was Kosher, so there was good quality smoked salmon and there was a great selection of herbs and spices.

As I was writing this, I got to thinking. If you wanted to know the difference between 1969 and 1979, you might want to consider our eating habits on a Friday evening. In 1969, it was religiously Fish and Chips eaten from the newspaper. By 1979, it was more likely to be a Chinese take out, a curry or even a trip out to a pub for a 'slap up meal'. Whilst by 2020 standards, I'd say our tastes were still pretty conservative, we were up for trying things and experimenting by the end of the 1970's. It really was the decade when we started to take food seriously. 

Monday, 14 September 2020

Environment Monday - Pollution and Covid 19 - The reason the death rate has plummeted?

 The big mystery in the UK is why we have seen soaring covid19 infection rates in the last few weeks, but this has not been reflected with a rise in hospital admissions. I've seen a stack of explanations, but one thing has not been mentioned. It is a well documented fact that pollution weakens our immune system and suppresses our response to infection. During lockdown, we saw unprecedently low pollution in our cities. In some streets, this was so low that the monitors reported faults. Now I am not a scientist, I have no statistics to back up my claims, but surely this relationship must be investigated. Many people who have had all manner of chronic respiratory disease reported significant improvement during lockdown when the air was at its cleanest. Has the break in the daily assault on our lungs given our bodies breathing space to recover. We really need to put pressure on the government to see if pollution was a factor in the death rate  and the massive reduction has contributed to us now seeing a far lower rate as infection rates rise. I am making no claims, just asking for some serious scientific research into what seems to me to be a very obvious link.

Sunday, 13 September 2020

The Tweets of the week in the London Borough of Barnet - 13-09-2020

 What's been going on in our neck of the woods? Here is our weekly summary, seen through the eyes of our local tweeters?

1. Lets start in Burnt Oak, where there is some news about one of the local landmarks.

2. Nice historical tweet reminding us of Cricklewood airport!

3. Having just got back from a walk over the Totteridge Valley with some friends, I must say I am quite pleased I didn't see these scary looking monsters, impressive though they are!

4. Congratulations to these guys. Well done

5. Nice Pic

6. The Borough has some amazing community gardeners!

7. We have some rather impressive clocks on the Northern Line. This is one of my favourites!

8. And if you are a Colindale Resident, check this out

9. Can't disagree with this statement!

10. Good to see our local music maestro's getting back to work!

That's all folks!

Boris Johnson and Brian Coleman

You may be surprised. Pinch yourself. I have come to praise Brian Coleman, not to bury him. Don't get me wrong, can't stand the man. I will not forgive or forget the fact that he assaulted my friend Helen Michael and lied through his teeth about it to the Police, the truth only emerging following the release of CCTV footage. But if you look at the bigger picture, he tried to do the nation a service last May, when it became clear that Boris Johnson was likely to win the leadership of the Conservative Party. Brian wrote a blog, from the perspective of someone who worked closely with Boris for a number of years. Brian made it crystal clear that Boris was not fit for the job of Prime Minister. 

His blog highlighted many of Boris's key character flaws. Firstly that he is an appalling judge of character. The appointment and retention of Dominc Cummings is perhaps the best example of this. Brian siad

Boris was a poor judge of character . I lost count of the many so called "Deputy Mayors" and Senior Aides who passed through City Hall in my four years :Nick Boles (Head of Transition)  lasted a month , Ray Taylor (totally bonkers) lasted three months ,Tim Parker (on another Planet )  and of course Ian Clement (fiddled his expenses ) spring to mind . Then there were people with no experience of Local Government Munira Mirza (did not like being called "Dear" ) Isabel Dedring, Transport (hated and ignored by TfL Officers) Kulveer Ranger (who once cried on my shoulder because he had lost his Secretary ), Matthew Pencharz ( a nice boy but well out of his depth) . Pam Chesters , a good choice as health advisor but totally undermined by Boris when he ordered her to reinstate Mars Bars in the City Hall canteen.

These inexperienced advisors are no doubt partly, along with Boris ego , the reason for so many failed and pointless Capital projects . Boris Island , the East London Cable Car , the Garden Bridge ..

Brian also warned us that Boris was likely to be a disaster at #PMQ's, something which has become a major problem for the PM since Sir Keir Starmer became leader of the opposition. Boris is getting absolutely murdered every single week and this is doing no good for the nerves and mood of the Conservative MP's. More of a problem is that the nation is starting to think our PM is simply not up to the job. Here's what Brian said, his words are rather prophetic.

His performance at the monthly Mayor's question time at City Hall was dreadful in the early days and to the frustration of Assembly colleagues ( including Kit Malthouse) did not really improve .

Another major problem is that Boris makes things up on the hoof. That is fine when you are campaigning, but when you are dealing with a global pandemic, it simply causes chaos that has resulted in major loss of life. The failure to read briefs and properly prepare for meetings and speeches is unforgiveable. Again Brian highlighted this

Boris just simply never read the briefs or prepared for his speeches . At one Lord Mayor of London's London Governance Dinner he could be seen scribbling notes on the napkin during the meat course.

A successful Prime Minister has to have a degree of empathy with the people they govern. If there is a major disaster, they have to be able to reach out the victims and make them feel that the government cares. Despite nearly dying of Covid, Boris appears to not have the slightest bit of empathy or compassion for the families that have lost loved ones as a result of his policy blunders. Again Brian flagged this up, detailing his complte lack of compassion for the victims of the 7/7 bombing.

At a briefing meeting held in Boris' Office in 2011 during the Inquests into the deaths of the victims of the 7/7 bombings I was telling Boris how the Fire Authority was having to spend a sizable sum on lawyers (as were the Met , TfL and everybody else involved ) not least because Mrs Justice Hallett was cutting up rough as Coroner when he suddenly said " I blame Tony Blair for all this , he started it with the Marchioness (Inquest) " Guto Harri, who was Boris' Head of Communications and at the time absolutely devoted to Boris , said " Oh Boris they are really for the families (of the victims) benefit " To which Boris replied "Fuck the families , Fuck the families !"  . I was having none of this and snapped at Boris  " You didn't have to write eight letters of condolence to families of your constituents or attend the funeral of 31 year old Lee Baisden ( a Fire Authority employee) who had been blown to pieces at Aldgate and comfort his poor widowed Mother " .

There is also Boris's relationship with the truth. Boris simply thinks he can get away with anything, the rules don't apply to him.  After the event described above, Brian notes the following

 After this meeting the ever loyal Guto Harri rang me up and said "it never happened Brian , it never happened" . Sorry Guto it did and I have witnesses .

Brian also gave us an insight into how Boris copes with difficult situations. This quote is quite illuminating

At the Annual Lord Mayor's Banquet one year he told me the " only way to get through events like this Brian is drink all the alcohol on offer !"

If we weren't in the middle of a global pandemic and if we weren't about to leave the EU perhaps none of this would matter quite so much. I suspect that if we lived in a perfect world, where we didn't face threats such as Putin poisoning our citizens with nerve agents, with IS terrorists wanting to murder us all, with China seeking to economically dominate the global economy, with rogue regimes such as North Korea acquiring nuclear weapons, it may be jolly good fun to have such a man leading the country to entertain us. The truth is that we are in a global crisis and when we need allies, we have a Prime Minister who is totally unfit to be in charge. A man who has shown he has no regard for international law. I am quite bemused for his contempt for the EU Withdrawall Treaty.  It was Boris's government that negotiated it and signed it, if it is a danger to the UK, then surely it is his fault for signing it. Any problems are entirely the fault of the Prime Minister.

You may not trust my opinion of Boris, given that I've never been a fan, but Brian Coleman worked with him for years and is a staunch Conservative.



Saturday, 12 September 2020

The Saturday List #279 - My top ten holidays

 This week we took some time out to go to The South Downs with our two dogs and three children. We found a lovely dog friendly hotel called the Hampshire Hog in Clanfield. At 79 for a double room, with breakfast thrown in, that was excellent and sited on the edge of the Queen Elizabeth park, there were amazing walks. We also got an amazing day on the beach at the lovely West Wittering beach, which is in my humble opinion, the best beach in the South East of England. 

It got me thinking about my top ten holidays. I'm not an Ibiza party person. Generally I like cities and I like  being around people, so my list won't be full of tips for beaches, etc.

1. Australia in 2007 and 2018. 

My Dad was an Aussie. Strangely I had no desire to go there. This was mostly because being a music nut, there didn't seem to be much to attract me. In 2007, we decided to take the kids. We did a tour of the East Coast. We stayed on Dunk Island, an amazing place devastated by a Hurricane since. We visited family in Cairns, went to Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. In late 2017, we were at a charity dinner and drunkenly bid with friends for a two week stay at a luxury apartment in Hamilton Island. We won that for £850, which was about a third of the normal price and went with friends, also visiting Sydney and Melbourne. I have to say that there is nothing quite like snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef. We visited Australia's pub of the year in Melbourne and had an amazing time. We saw the Opera house and chilled in St Kilda's, listening to a good fun Irish band. It is a good place to hang out and if you ever can afford it, check it out. I am glad we spent the quality time with the children there. 

2. USA 2008.

In 2008, we visited Los Angeles  and San Francisco with the kids. A huge cloud was thrown over the holiday as my Mum died unexpectedly on the second day. I was preparing to fly back, but my sisters called to say that they'd arranged the funeral for after we returned, and that Mum would want us to enjoy ourselves. I took that literally. We saw The Steve Miller Band and Joe Cocker in Concorde. We ate Japanese in San Fran. We did the Six Flags theme park, which the kids loved. We chilled on Laguna beach. It was great. I even went to mass and the Parish Priest offered prayers for my mum and said some kind words. The whole community gave me their condolences. It was uplifting to know that there are nice people everywhere.

3. 1987 Scotland.

I'd only been seeing Clare for a year and a half and we decided to take a holiday away together. Sadly for Clare, she found that I wasn't a beach person. I had a yearning to go to Scotland. Neither of us could drive, so we got a Scotrail ticket. This gave us a weeks rail travel on any train in Scotland. It was great. We visited the Edinburgh festival. We visited John O'Groats, Loch Lomond, Loch Ness and The Isle of Skye. It was great. Taking the train was a great way to relax. Every train was late every day. It was part of the fun. If you've never been to the festival, I thoroughly recommend it.

4. 1989 Eurorail.

Deciding that the Scotrail trip was fun, we decided to get more ambitious and did a Eurorail ticket for a couple of weeks. We went to Strasbourg, Vienna, Budapest, Thessalonica, Istanbul, Munich and Amsterdam. For me, one of the best moments was finding that The Potato five, a Ska band I follow, were playing in Amsterdam. I have to say, of all the places, I loved Istanbul. The Turks were really friendly and we found a great little bar, that served beers and what are best described as Tapas. We were there for four days and went in every day. On the last day, we said our goodbyes and they didn't charge us. It is a great way to see Europe. 

5. USA 1992.

In 1992, I had split up with Clare for a while. I decided to spend some time hanging out on the East Coast of the USA. I mentioned this to my best friend Chris and his wife Elaine and they decided to tag along, We flew to New York and did a road trip around New York state, Pennsylvania and Washington. Upstate New York was amazing. We went in October, so the sights of the leaves in colour in the Catskills and Adirondacks was amazing. We sampled some of the great microbreweries. We did the New York areas. Chinatown, The Italian sector, etc. The Museums in Washington. After 2 weeks Chris and Elaine left. I spent a couple of weeks extra.  I managed to blag tickets to the CMJ awards and ended up on a table with Trish Yearwood, who won the award for best country artist. I took a full part in the party that followed. Trish was lovely, reminded me of my big sister Val. It was during the Election campaign and one hotel we'd booked happened to have a George Bush Rally there. We took one look and turned around, finding another place which was more to our liking!

6. France  1994.

In 1994, I'd got back together with Clare. As she was bored of listening to tales of the marvellous holiday I'd had with Chris and Elaine, the decision was made to make some memories with them together. I had a VW camper van, so we decided to do a tour of France. I had the van fully serviced before I left as a precaution, but it broke down in Paris on the first day. It turned out there was an oil pump problem, so we could only do 50 miles at a hop. Nevertheless, we managed to get to Paris, Fontainebleau, La Rochelle, The Loire valley, La Puy, and stayed at a couple of small country Gites in the middle of nowhere. I eventually found  a VW dealer who fixed the van. We had some amazing meals and many of the towns were having small festivals. It was a really great couple of weeks. France is a really good place for a road tour. One of the things will stay with me forever is the visit to Orador-sur-La-Glane. I am not really one for visiting the sites of atrocities, but the bloke who was fixing our van was nearby, so we went. It brought home to me why fanatics must be resisted.

7. Thailand 2017.

We took the kids to Thailand in 2017. It was a great family holiday. The food was great, the people were lovely and there was a lovely beach and town. We did a few amazing guided walks. We were advised to find a nice taxi driver and hire him for the day to show us around. We did that and it was the best way. 

8. China 1990. 

Back in 1990, there were some really cheap package deals to China following the Tiananmen Square massacre. I saw it as a great chance to see somewhere that I may never see otherwise. We booked a package with Voyages Jules Verne, who were excellent. It was a two centre holiday at Beijing and Xian. In terms of seeing stuff, it was the best holiday ever. The Terracota army was amazing. The reason it isn't no 1 is because the whole visit was tightly controlled and although we met lots of people, who were friendly, we were very much kept at arms length. 

9. USSR 1989.

Clare did a degree in Russian Studies, and studied at a college in Minsk for three months. We decided to visit her friends. We booked a holiday to Moscow, Leningrad and Minsk. The USSR was fascinating and is well worth a visit. Leningrad (Now St Petersberg) was especially interesting from a sightseeing perspective. However what intrigued me were the people. A mate took me to Vilnius on the train. This was highly illegal for a foreigner from the UK, so I pretended to be a drunk Belarussian peasant. I did this well enough to fool the KGB who I shared a train carriage with. It is amazing what an effective disguise a can of beer can be! In Vilnius I met independence activists, who told me the USSR was about to crumble and that Lithuania would soon be in the EU. I was sceptical. They were right.

10. Lourdes, France.

Perhaps Lourdes should be no 1. It is the place I've been most. When I was a kid, my Dad would take me on Pilgrimage every year. My mum would go to Spain with my sisters, but my Dad hated Franco and wouldn't support a Fascist regime. He told me that when he was being shot down over Rumania in 1944 on a bombing raid, he prayed to The Virgin Mary that if he survived, he'd live a good life, so going to Lourdes was a part of this. Although he was religious, he also loved a party, so he'd pray in the morning, have lunch and a few glasses of wine, a sleep and then hit the bars. I think that's why I love pubs so much. He'd tour the bars, get into conversations with strangers. He'd give me a shandy (a glass of Lemonade with a tot of his beer). It was bliss. This stopped in 1974. In 2001, I went back with HCPT as a helper with a group of people with disabilities. It was a very different experience, but I loved it. My Mum had a stroke in 2000, so it was great to be able to take her. After she passed in 2008, I took my cousin Tessie, who is my age but has Downs syndrome. The best thing is being part of a group, away from the stresses of every day life. I'd thoroughly recommend it. 

Friday, 11 September 2020

Councillor Brian Gordon - RIP

 I was saddened but not surprised to learn of the passing of Councillor Brian Gordon, a long serving member of the Council, who represented bith Hale and Edgware wards. I was not surprised, as I was informed by a friendly Barnet Conservative councillor a while back that he was seriously ill and may not be long of this world. As a blogger who can be quite critical of councillors, I do appreciate such heads ups. It should never be part of blogging to upset families of people who are ill. 

For me, Councillor Brian Gordon was a favourite of mine. Not because I agreed with just about anything he said, but because he was the chair of the first council meeting I ever attended, and when I wrote the blog, he emailed me to say how much he enjoyed the blog, but suggested I could be more respectful to Councillor John Hart, as he was knocking on in years and I surely wouldn't want to feel responsible if my blogging caused him to croak. Interestingly, a couple of years later I was having a drink with John and I recounted that story. His response was "The cheeky so and so, I can assure you I'll outlive that b@gger". So it transpires. I have long thought John Hart is really a Jedi Knight, trying his hardest not to succumb completely to the dark side (and not always succeeding). 

Councillor Gordon was always acerbically polite to me in council, on a couple of occasions when I saw him in a social setting, he was far more friendly, not completely averse to passing a tasty nugget of information which may be helpful to a blog where he had an axe to grind on a particular subject. Like most of the Barnet Councillors, he knew that he could trust me not to dob him in for such things. Councillor Gordon was set to become Mayor, but the Covid19 crisis and the grim reaper intervened.  I had only recently learned that we were both alumni of Orange Hill School, he was a fair bit older, but I suspect that may have been one reason for his friendly non business demeanour. There have been many sad reminiscences on the Ex OHS facebook page. I wish I'd twigged this earlier!

I thought I'd share my first ever blog to feature Councillor Gordon, the one that prompted his comments.This was published in the Barnet Times , back when everyone read it! It is interesting to recall how different things used to be in Barnet Council, before they completely removed real public engagement - The original is here. 

A confession. I suffer from tourettes syndrome. It doesn't affect me all of the time, so you won't catch me doing Fr Jack (of Father Ted fame) impersonations during mass. It only affects me when I go to meetings to discuss local issues, stuffed full of local politicians. As they drag on I always get overcome with the need to yell obscenities at them, as they spout ever more ridiculous answers to perfectly reasonable questions.

On Thursday, I decided to take myself down to Copthall School for the Hendon Residents forum meeting. These sessions give local residents an opportunity to raise issues with the council. Questions are submitted in advance and then each point is supposed to be debated. The chairman for the session was Hale Councillor Brian Gordon and Vice chair was Mill Hill Councillor John Hart. Confirming my suspicion that Barnet Council couldn't organise a booze up in a brewery, from the very first question one thing became apparent. The acoustics of the room were so awful that hardly a word was audible. As a sound engineer I advised St Vincents school on a similar problem a couple of years ago. These things are quite easy to rectify. When booking any hall for any sort of event, my first question is always - what are the acoustics like and is it fit for purpose. It seems that is beyond the power of our local authority. I actually think it is disgraceful that the school have to use such a substandard facility, when a small investment could completely fix the problem.

Anyway enough of that. The first three item were about the CPZ in Burnt Oak. Labour Councillor Charlie O-Macauley made some fine points (well I assume he did, couldn't actually hear him but Brian Gordon seemed to agree).

The fourth item was regarding the poor condition of the toilets in Hendon Park. It was raised by Jason Ezekiel who runs the cafe in the park. Now Mr Ezekiel looked to me like a perfectly normal person as did the lady accompanying him. As he was standing behind me I could actually hear him, which helped. He read a rather disturbing letter which the council had sent him. In response to his question to the council complaining about the bad state of the toilets, the council stated that "The toilets were not designed for use by the staff of the cafe". What on earth does this mean? Now without wanting to appear like a sexual pervert, I snuck a quick look at Mr Ezekiel's posterior and that of his companion. They certainly looked perfectly normal to me. I wondered what possible criteria he uses to employ staff that requires different toilet facilities to the rest of the population of Hendon. If anyone at the council could tell me I'd love to know. I cannot believe that 2 or three people working in a cafe would overload the system, so what on earth does the council's comment mean? It seems all Mr Ezekiel wants is for the council to use a special floor paint so the toilets are easy to clean and don't stink to high heaven. If the council think that the rest of Hendon love the pong of urine when they use the convenience, they are sadly mistaken.

Next up were three questions from our good friend, David Miller, of fame. As he wasn't here there was a swift debate during which a lady accused me of making things up when I said that the council was spending £28,000 a year storing unwanted laptop PC's. Anyway Hale councillor Hugh Rayner has promised to investigate this for me. I'll keep you posted.

Next up was Mr Richman with 8 different questions, mostly regarding the facilities for sport and cycling in Barnet. It seems that like me Mr Richman suffers from Tourettes in the company of council officers. Councillor Gordon had to tell him off for using bad language. Now Mr Richman is wasted at residents meetings, he really should be on the stage. He stood up and took the trouble to act out the problems faced by cyclists at traffic lights in Edgware. At one stage he was warned for getting too close to council officers by Councillor Gordon as part of his demonstration. Given that no one could hear a word he said, the demo managed to get his point over (to me at least). After about 35 minutes he finally managed to secure a commitment from Ian Caunce, the highways officer present that someone might do something (about what I really couldn't tell you).

By this time, Burnt Oak Councillor Lynda MacFadyen had given up. In a Michael Heseltine-esque fit of pique she flounced out announcing "I can't hear a thing it's pointless being here". At the end of the points raised by Mr Richman, I asked a question regarding a non response from Barnet Council on a planning issue. Councillor Gordon said "And who are you?" I replied "My name is Roger Tichborne". He suddenly looked a bit less composed "Oh I know who you are" he responded. Clearly realising that the meeting was likely to be more public than he had initially thought, he seemed to decide to relax his usual cut 'em off when they waffle policy. Now Myk Tucker a supporter of "No overdevelopment in Edgware" informed me that Councillor Gordon always likes to wrap up meetings early. This strategy seemed to go out of the window.

Next up Sonya Lejeune. She is concerned about the work at Burnt Oak library. To every concern she raised, Councillor Gordon responded "Well surely you should wait till it's open before you say that". I suppose once it's open she'll be told, why didn't you raise this before the work is done. I don't know, I hope Councillor Gordon is right and it will be marvellous.

And on, by this time it was 7.45pm (meeting started at 6.30). We were only up to question 17 out of 38. Councillor Gordon was starting to look worried. Not only might he not be home for cocoa at 8.30pm, he may not be home for Rosh Hashana. Up stepped Mrs Cohen. Her question was 2 1/2 pages long and had points a through to i. Now I have to confess that yet again I couldn't hear what she was on about. Not only that, but the 2 1/2 pages of notes only give the faintest clue. It seems she's unhappy with some aspect of the council's policy regarding a neighbour carrying on business at a private address. That is only a small part of the story though. It seems that the 2 1/2 page question she submitted was edited by the council. It seems much of the juicy detail was removed from the notes we got. Mrs Cohen was unhappy. After approx 20 minutes of her giving us the full text of her question, she noticed that Councillor Gordon was chatting away to Ian Caunce and completely ignoring her. Was she prepared to stand for this, no she wasn't she gave him a piece of her mind in no uncertain terms. Councillor Gordon responded that he'd listened to every word she'd said. Now either he possesses the hearing abilities of Superman or he's telling porkies, as she was completely inaudible apart from the odd "disgraceful" or "unacceptable". Anyway thoroughly chastised by his nemesis he tried to maintain focus. As to Councillor John Hart, for the entire meeting he had not uttered a word. As Mrs Cohen made sure we were all aware of her grievance I became fascinated with his demeanour. I suspect that the good councillor is not actually a human after all. He has the aura of a Jedi Knight. He sits there stoically saying nothing, but seemingly fighting an ever more desperate battle to not cross to the dark side. He clearly realises that he could simply snuff Mrs Cohen out using "the force" but then he'd no longer be a good guy. If Mrs Cohen disappears and a black caped knight in a welding helmet strides through to the next council meeting we know that the dark side won. On Mrs Cohen ploughed. At some point she realised that Leslie Feldman, the planning officer wasn't paying attention either. In she went, verbal daggers swinging. Councillor Gordon tried to defend the honour of Ms Feldman, but was dispatched with a swift comment along the lines of "I've already dealt with you, little man, be quiet". On she went. It was clear that council officers had ignored her. It was clear she was unhappy. At this point, she noticed that the third council officer (sorry, didn't catch his name) was also not paying attention. "Look at me when I'm speaking to you" she bellowed. Councilor Gordon said "This is not the forum to raise this". Mrs Cohen yelled back "I am a resident, this is the residents forum, you have to listen to me. It's not your forum". Councillor Gordon slunk back.

Much as I was enjoying all of this, I had to play football at 8.30pm up the road at the Powerleague pitches, so at 8.25 I departed. There were 21 more questions to go. I hope that the council officials get there act together and sort out Mrs Cohen's issues. I'm sure Councillor Gordon does as well (if he's not still sitting there listening).

Councillor Brian Gordon RIP

The British Government and the rule of law

 This week something happened that I never believed I would see in my lifetime. A democratically elected British government announced in Parliament that it was going to break international law and flout legally binding international agreements. Lets start by stating that this is nothing to do with Brexit, much as how the government may try and present it. It is about our credibility and international standing in the world. There are many risks, and the one bulwark defence we have is the law. We see the Russian government poisoning political opponents. We see the Chinese government flouting the Hong Kong agreement. We see all manner of tinpot dictators flouting the law around the world. The UK and our allies do follow the rule of law, this gives us strength of purpose and unity. After the second world war, the Nuremburg trials were held under British law, with the blessing of Stalin and Roosevelt, because they recognised that it would ensure that people took the verdicts seriously and would recognise that they were legally properly constituted. When you consider how many citizens of the USSR died and how strong the calls for revenge were, it is a demonstration of how highly the British respect for law was considered.

Eighty years ago today, the Battle of Britain was raging over our skies. Britain had declared war on Germany because Germany had broken international treaties. They had demonstrated that they were untrustworthy. I was lucky that I have the perspective of my Father, who was a WW2 bomber pilot. He was inspired to enlist for pilot training by the antics of the British airmen bravely resisting such tyranny. When you enlist in the RAF you are not just trained to fly a plane. You are taught that you are upholding the law. You are taught that by following the Geneva convention, you save British lives. An enemy is far more likely to surrender and lay down their arms if they know they will be treated fairly and according to the law, rather than taken behind the bike sheds and shot. As Germany collapsed, there was a rush of Wehrmacht troops flocking to surrender to the British, as they knew we'd not ship them off to camps and starve them. It is the basis of our state. Last night, even the Speaker of the House in the USA was criticising the UK, this is a level of the depths we've sunk to. 

These lessons were drummed into me. The Government of Boris Johnson has shown that it is prepared to flout the law. The Dominic Cummings incident was an indicator. The announcement this week is a seismic step change. If Parliament stands by and lets this pass, we are as nothing. Parliament needs to stand up and assert its authority. They need to make it clear that the UK follows the law. The argument that UK sovereignty trumps international treaties is the sort of argument that a dictator uses and is not worthy of us. The government has made a complete hash of Brexit. The way out of this is not to destroy our credibility in the eyes of the world.