Saturday, 22 September 2018

The Saturday List #189 - My Top Ten memories of Opportunity Knocks

Earlier this week, I was driving to the Gym and Jo Good on BBC London was on the Radio. She was talking about shows we watched with the family. For some reason it got me thinking of Opportunity Knocks. This was the prototype for Pop Idol, X Factor and the rest of the talent shows. I was thinking of the acts that it put in the public spotlight. It was required viewing for most families, way ahead of its time!

As the old readers will remember, it was hosted by the affable Hughie Green (who turned out to be the Dad of Paula Yates). Hughie was a superstar for a few years. None of the nastyness of Simon Cowell. I miss Opportunity knocks, but really wouldn't want a return. It had its day, here are my top ten favourite Opportunity Knocks moments and alumni. Enjoy!

1.  Mary Hopkin.
Won the show, got a record deal with Apple Records. I remember her for "Those were the days", oddly I thought this was what she sung at The Eurovision Song contest, however in actual fact it was ""Knock Knock, Who's there".  I've always had a soft spot for Those Were The Days. A beautiful song, set to the tune of the Volga Boatman song. Did you know that Mary was a member of  Oasis in 1984! Sadly, this was not the Manc band, but a collaboration with Peter Skellern and Julian Lloyd Weber. 

2. Freddie Starr. 
Freddie was a complete anarchist, later famous for the "Freddie Starr ate my hamster" Sun headline. I once met Freddie. I suspect that eating Hamsters was the least of his sins. He was something way left field of anything else that had been on the show at the time. Could be absolutely hilarious but also horribly cringeworthy.  This is him at his absolute best, if you've not seen this clip, your really should it is genius. Not least because you would need cojones the size of hot air balloons to do that to the greatestHeavyweight  Boxer that ever walked the planet. 

3. Peters and Lee. 
I mainly remember them because my sister in law rather liked them. Very nice homespun pop songs. I especially liked them as it made buying my sister in law an Xmas present easy!
It is hard to listen to this and not remember the 1970s, they simply don't make songs like this anymore. Great harmonies, big production, proper instruments.

4. Pam Ayres.
My mum used to think Pam Ayres was marvellous. She said "It's great when people bring poetry to the masses". As she reminds me of my Mum being happy. I have a soft spot for her.

5. Neil Reid.
I really hated everything about this. A horrible mawkish song by a far too well brushed up schoolboy. What I hated most was that adults thought I'd like it because he was a kid. Neil had a number one hit as a result and was a national sensation. I suspect thet nearly every mum in the country (except mine) got one for her birthday present or at Xmas in 1972. For me, back in 1972, I was far more into Starman by David Bowie. I have often hoped my mum was not too disappointed. 

6. Bobby Crush.
Pianist Bobby Crush was an Opportunity Knocks find. I've never been a huge fan of the Piano, I prefer guitars, but Bobby is a proper entertainer. I love this clip of Bobby Crush. This is another of those video clips that they simply wouldn't make today. Bobby is still going strong, sadly minus the entourage of bikini clad beauties.

7. Lena Zavaroni.
Lena was another of the kids, that adults always assumed I'd like because they were kids.I doubt that a 10 year old singing "Mama, he's making eyes at me" would be let anywhere near a telly show these days. The sad thing was that Lena really could sing and by the time she started making decent records, no one was buying them.  Sadly she passed away in 1999.

8. Bonnie Langford.
Yet another of the annoying kids. When she graduated to become an assistant to Dr Who, for me it signalled the fact that Doctor Who really had run out of ideas. Like all of the annoying kids, Bonnie was and is very talented, but they come from a strand of the entertainment industry that never really did it for me. Having said that, Bonnie is a talented singer and actress. Ironically, 40 years after her telly debut, she won the 2016 British Soap Award for Best Newcomer for her appearance in Eastenders.
Which just goes to show that when one door shuts, there is always another one open

9. Les Dawson.
I used to love Les Dawson. An old school comic who's gruff and miserable delivery simply amplified the humour in his work. A comic genius, especially with his ability to play the piano badly. Dawson was a talented pianist, but found that he could get laughs by playing easily recognisable songs badly. An absolute master of comedy timing

10. Harry Gumm and his singing dog.
The thing I really loved about opportunity knocks was the weird and wacky acts, one of the best was Harry Gumm and his singing dog, who won three times! Sadly both Harry and his dog Jack are no longer with us.  When Jack and Harry won, the agent of Su Pollard who they beat claimed that Harry was squeezing Jack's testicles to get him to howl. As someone who knows dogs, I would expect a rather different reaction if you tried that. Some dogs do enjoy singing along. My wife's mother had one such mutt called Sophie. It put me off Su Pollard for life. If you lose to a singing dog, take it on the chin and get on with your life. 

Friday, 21 September 2018

Has the Metropolitan Police ceased operating in The London Borough of Barnet?

You may say "What a ridiculous question, why would anyone ask such a question?". If I saw a blog with such a title, I'd say the same thing myself. Or maybe I would have yesterday. Today it seems a perfectly rational question. You see between last night and when I sat down to have my lunch today, I've spoken to four different people who have all been victims of crime in our locality. All of them declined to go "on record", but each of them story ends with the words "and the police did nothing". I have no idea what the priorities of the Metropolitan Police are in Mill Hill or for the rest of Barnet. I know for a fact that they are stretched in a way that has never happened before. I was due to go for a weekend away this week with a friend who is a serving officer, but had to defer as we are dropping my daughter at Uni. I have every sympathy and I in no way blame the officers at the coalface. It is the politicians who have taken their eye off the ball. In light of my conversations, I decided to look at the local crime statistics for Mill Hill. I would imagine that Mill Hill is fairly representative of Barnet generally and I chose it as I know the area well. Have a look at these shocking facts. The first one is the latest figures for Mill Hill (for July)
Mill Hill Crime Map for Mill Hill July 2018

Breakdown of crime types 2017/2018

Breakdown of Outcomes 2017/2018

Ask anyone what the principle job of the Police is. Most people would say to "catch criminals and lock them up". Of approximately 1,500 crimes in the year in Mill Hill, 1.98% ended in a court appearance and 0.33% ended in a criminal going to prison. That is five people. Forgive my stupidity, but given that there were 316 instances of violence and sexual assault, 41 robberies and 7 cases of possession of weapons, all of which I'd expect a high number of convictions amongst, what can we conclude? Of course there are 14 where the "court result is unavailable", however this hardly makes a dent. I note that only one person was fined. Given that there were 310 instances of Anti Social behaviour (which I'd say a fine is generally a most appropriate penalty), this is truly appalling.  The vast majority of these crimes, 954 are "under investigation" (Whatever that means). There were 466 cases where the investigation was dropped with "no suspect identified". 

I am making an assumption that Mill Hill mirrors the rest of the Borough of Barnet. I am making a further assumption that the crime patterns are largely similar. In January, our local MP, Mr Matthew Offord staged a public meeting at the Hartley Hall in Mill Hill, with the Chief of Police from Barnet Police, Simon Rose. This followed the appalling killing of shopkeeper Vijay Patel. The three young men involved were caught and prosecuted. It does seem that when there is a priority such as a murder or a terrorist incident, we can expect the police to respond. But for assaults, robberies, weapons offences, sexual offences and burglaries can we expect anything at all. 

One of the people I spoke with told me about their frustrations with "Victim Support". They said "The job of the Police is to nick the bad bad guys, not drink tea and tell me how sorry they are". They suggested that our community should organise itself so we do the community support ourselves and free up the bobbies to catch the villains. Another victim, who was suffered from a burglary and are yet to see the police, said "The only reason I called them was so I had a crime number for the insurance company". This particular person is a staunch Tory and a hard line outsourcer. They made an even more radical suggestion "Why don't they simply out source burglary investigations to Capita. Then you could ring up, wait half an hour on the phone for an answer, have to navigate an impossible switchboard and eventually be given a number, safe in the knowledge that no one will ever bother to do anything with it. It would be a crap service but at least it would free up a few coppers and we'd not have the false hope that something might happen".

What I find upsetting is the repeated comments that "The Police are absolutely useless". I honestly don't believe they are. What they are is completely underfunded. Any criminal reading these figures will sleep easy in their bed. The only time that any crime, other than murders and terrorism are punished is when the offenders are caught red handed, usually by members of the public. I don't believe that there is a single law abiding resident of the London Borough of Barnet who believes we have enough police to do the job. I don't believe that there is a single, law abiding resident of the London Borough of Barnet who would object to a small rise in taxation (say £2 a week) to get the numbers of police we need back on the streets. I have daughters who I want to feel safe on the streets. The 316 cases of violence and sexual assault scare the hell out of me. I have to say that if I ever caught anyone sexually assaulting my wife or daughters, then there would most likely be one more person added to the number of people going to prison, just about everyone I know who has daughters would say the same thing. I want the police to be the ones bringing justice to such people, but what happens when they give up? Having reviewed the statistics, the only conclusion I can draw is that they are not doing anything to seriously deal with the 316 violent and sexual assaults. That is truly horrific.  I am a law abiding citizen who takes my civic responsibilities seriously. When I look at this I realise that there is simply no way as a society that we can let things proceed as they are. 

Back in January, Matthew Offord assured a packed audience that he'd do something to sort the situation out. On his website he says "Under Labour the police spent 50% more time on paperwork than they did out on patrol. Labour’s obsession with targets and box-ticking hindered the fight against crimes like burglary. Getting more police on the beat is a top priority for me."

We've now had eight years of Conservative government, which Matthew Offord has been a member of. Surely the time has come where Labour can no longer be blamed. We don't want a political football, we want action. We want to feel safe in our homes and on the streets. We are crying out for leadership from the likes of Mr Offord, people who have the guts to say "It may add the cost of a Starbucks coffee a week to your tax bill, but we simply need more police, so they can do the job properly". That is the only way that Mr Offords desire for " police on the beat" will ever be realised.

Have you been the victim of a serious crime and had no response from the Police? Let us know

Many thanks to Lydia Wolfson for pointing us at this petition to improve policing. Readers may wish to sign

The Friday Joke 21/9/2018 - "J" stands for......

I just love this one! Have a great weekend

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Railway Hotel Edgware - Planning update - Owner wants to turn car park into a car wash

There has been some frantic activity on the Railway Hotel in Edgware recently.

It has emerged that there is building works currently being undertaken. Uncorroborated reports indicate that the upstairs is being converted into flats whilst the downstairs will become a Lebanese Restaurant.

It appears that the building contractors are not certified for working on listed buildings and that no plans for alteration to such a building have been submitted.

What has been submitted is a plan to install a car wash operation, using portacabins, at the back. The Barnet Eye is appalled that anyone could possibly think that this is a suitable addition to a Grade II Listed building. The Railway Hotel could and should be the jewel in the crown on Edgware High Street. A carwash operating from a portacabin around the back is in no way an asset to the site. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against car washes. We have one at our site in Bunns Lane which is a fine addition to the services available in Mill Hill for motorists (most useful with all the dust being generated from the NIMR demolition), but we are in an industrial estate, not in a Grade II listed building.

If you do not want to see a further degeneration of the site, please leave an objection on the planning request (Click here to access the planning request).

Once again, it makes you wonder what our local councillors actually do for their £10K a year allowances? They are clearly not doing anything to represent their constituents. Even more worrying is that it states Urban Design & Heritage were consulted with Consultation Date: Thu 06 Sep 2018. They didn't bother to leave a comment. What on earth are we paying our taxes for is they can't see the problem with proposals such as this?

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Take your dog poo home with you

Mill Hill is a wonderful place. It has fantastic green spaces, many of which have been mentioned in this blog. There is one aspect of these that drives me to distraction. That is the selfish and disgusting behaviour of a small minority of dog owners who seem to think that the poo their pooches leave is someone elses problem. This morning we did the Darlands Nature reserve walk, starting and finishing on Burtonhole Lane. Our little walking group enjoyed the brisk and bracing wind and cloudy skies, in stark contrast to yesterday's amazing blue skies.

What greeted us as we crossed the fields was this truly disgusting spectacle.

It is bad enough that someone left poo hanging around, but to pick it up, put it in a bag and hang it on a signpost is truly horrible. What sort of a person thinks this sort of behaviour is OK? Poo is bad enough, but to leave it in a plastic bag hanging on a post shows a complete and brazen disregard for the fellow citizens of Mill Hill, the environment (as plastic is a major eco problems) and for the landowners, who ultimately will have to deal with the mess.

Be warned. If I catch you doing this, I will photograph you and name and shame you and to hell with your rights to privacy. Learn to behave like a decent citizen and to respect those who you share this amazing neighbourhood with.

Monday, 17 September 2018

24 hours to Save London Music Campaign - Save the London International Ska Festival

The Save London Music Campaign has primarily been concerned with preservation of the venues, studios and creative spaces in London. None of these would have a purpose without music promoters. Good promoters have, over the years, defined the shape of the London Music scene. Generally the very best combine a love of music, a passion for a specific genre, a strong focused vision and a good degree of business acumen. 

One of the very best of these is Sean Flowerdew. Back in 1988 Sean set up the London International Ska Festival. Anyone who loves Ska, Reggae, Calypso and Rhythm and Blues will have in some way had their lives touched by the Ska Festival. Since 1988 the festival have been bringing legends over from Jamaica, showcasing local talent and keeping the genre of music on the map. Many amazing artists, who had years of struggle have seen their careers revived by the efforts of Sean and his team. I recently saw the legendary Jamaican artist Derrick Morgan at the Jazz Cafe. The resurgence in his career was a direct result of the support from the festival.  Amazing London bands such as the Potato 5 have also been kept on the map. This year the festival saw legends such as Ken Booth and Desmond Dekker appearing.
The very best radio shows in London regularly feature contributions from Sean and artists appearing at the Festival. Robert Elms on BBC London has been a stalwart supporter. Since 2011, the festival has been operating under a huge cloud. Despite it's amazing track record and huge influence, there were severe perational issues for the organisers that year. The festival took a huge financial hit and despite the best efforts of the organisSave London Music 2ers, has been hamstrung ever since.
The debts have held back the festival ever since, ambitious plans have had to be scaled back and the organisers have had the stress of juggling the finances simply to keep going. Many of the expenses for the festival are up front and the income doesn't get counted until after the last act finishes, which means that there are constant stresses for everyone  It is a huge testament to Sean and the team that they have managed to provide such amazing line ups and deliver so much. 
The situation has reached the point where Sean has taken the extraordinary step of appealing to the many friends and fans of the festival to help out. He has issued the following statement. There is only 24 hours left to save the Festival, so please make a donation today. 

" I founded The London Intl Ska Festival in 1988.  Since then we've celebrated all things ska, from its roots in mento, calypso and rhythm & blues and onward through its evolution into rocksteady, reggae, dub, 2 Tone, skapunk and beyond.
Since 2011 the festival has been operating with substantial debts, which despite some great support and fundraising still total over £50,000.  In the last 8 years, although I haven't ever taken a penny from the festival or been paid for any of the work, I have been able to keep the festival going year to year and paying off debts as I go.  This unfortunately has taken its toll and I can no longer afford to fund the festival by myself.   
So I'm reaching out to ska lovers around the world, to people who see the importance of our historic festival and to all the people who have enjoyed the shows over the last 30 years. 
The aim of this crowdfunder is to try and #SaveTheSkaFest and clear the historic debts once and for all.  Then The London Intl Ska Festival can move forward and continue to programme world-class and world-exclusive shows. You can help in a number of ways.  
You can donate using this campaign, or purchase any one of our rewards which include badges, our compilation CD & LP Rudies All Around (featuring 18 fantastic bands from 13 countries), or tickets for any one of our events (all listed in the rewards).  I will also be adding some more rewards next week. 
Over 30 years we have hosted some of the greatest names in the genre including 2 Tone members from The Specials and Madness, plus The Selecter, The Beat, Jerry Dammers and Rhoda Dakar.  We've had Jamaican legends: Prince Buster, Alton Ellis, Delroy Wilson, U-Roy, The Skatalites (starring Tommy McCook, Roland Alphonso, Lloyd Knibb, Lloyd Brevett, Dizzy Moore and Lester Sterling), Lee Perry, Horace Andy, Desmond Dekker, Ken Boothe, Doreen Shaffer, Derrick Morgan, Laurel Aitken, Keith & Tex, Ken Parker, Rico Rodriguez, Derrick Harriott, Bob Andy, Marcia Griffiths, Dennis Alcapone, Dave & Ansel Collins, The Pioneers, The Clarendonians, Otis Gayle, Owen Gray, Freddie Notes, Stranger Cole, Ranking Joe, BB Seaton (Gaylads), Twinkle Brothers, Clive Chin (Randys), Gladdy Wax sound system, Vin Gordon and Channel One sound system. 
And 100s more including; Steel Pulse, Misty In Roots, Judge Dread, Bitty McLean, Caroll Thompson, Christopher Ellis, Dreadzone, Zion Train, The Skints, Pama International, Don Letts, David Rodigan, James Hunter, The Pietasters, The Toasters, African Head Charge, Dennis Bovell, Gentlemans Dub Club, Babylon Circus, Dub Pistols, Brinsley Forde (Aswad), The Hempolics, Jazz Jamaica, Mad Professor, The Loafers, Potato 5, Hotknives, Ska Cubano, Wrongtom, Manasseh, Sonic Boom Six, Chris Murray, to name a very few. 
We have hosted shows in iconic London venues including; the Victoria & Albert Museum, The Forum, 100 Club, The Astoria, The Brixton Fridge (now the Electric), O2 Academy Islington, Islington Assembly Hall, Dixie Queen paddle steamer, Camden's Dublin Castle, Jazz Cafe, Dingwalls, Electric Ballroom and Barfly. 
I would love to continue the festival.  The next one is in the diary for 18-21 April 2019.   If you'd like to see The London Intl Ska Festival continue please support if you can afford to and share this campaign with anyone you know who loves ska!"
The maths is quite simple. If there are 2,000 people on the planet who think that the London International Ska Festival is a massive asset to our city and worth saving, and are willing to stump up a tenner, the Festival can clear its debts and continue to do amazing things. The guys who organise it and have been for years do an amazing job. If you think the festival is worth saving, for the price of a couple of pints of beer or cappucino's in a London Coffee shop, then please do your bit. Without promoters like Sean, London would be a poorer place. 
To save The London International Ska Festival

Thameslink Chaos - Time for Matthew Offord to review his cunning plan?

Thameslink Chaos Explained (courtesy London Reconnections)
Like many people who live in Mr Matthew Offord MP's constituency of Hendon, I regularly use the Thameslink service from Mill Hill into the city. Over the past few years, the service has been absolutely chaotic. This blog has regularly chronicled the failures, and the privations suffered by commuters. If you are interested in the sheer scale of the abject failure of the service in May when the new timetable was introduced and the reasons for it, there is a comprehensive analysis on the London Reconnections website.  The problems are summed up by this excellent flowchart. The article explains that the whole thing was a disaster from start to finish and  unbelieveably no one seems to have noticed. The article makes it pretty clear that the problems are not only the fault Govia (the train operator), but Network rail and the government.

In years gone by, the Transport secretary, Chris Grayling would have been swiftly sacked for such a cock up, but these days ministers simply do not take responsibility, so the country just ends up with a no blame culture of shoddy delivery from top to bottom. Let me just state that I am not saying this because of Graylings party allegiances. Competence is not a party political issue. I am equally critical of how the Labour Mayor of London is managing the Crossrail project.

The effects of this mismanagement on ridership of Thameslink since Govia have taken over is demonstrated by a huge drop in ridership at Mill Hill.

National Rail annual entry and exit
2012–13Increase 2.040 million[1]
2013–14Increase 2.482 million[1]
2014–15Increase 2.675 million[1]
2015–16Decrease 1.949 million[1]
2016–17Decrease 1.884 million[1]

This was before the new Timetable, so we can only speculate the loss to the economy. Given that the average Londoner earns £22.32 an hour, every day that Thameslink disruption causes an hours lateness to Mill Hill commuters, this costs the economy over £115,000. If we speculate that Mill Hill commuters have lost an hour 44 times this year as a result of the disruption, that is over £5 million pounds of economic impact. That is without considering the sheer hassle that this causes. The cancellation of meetings, the disruption to family plans, the cancelled wedding anniversary meals and birthday celebrations etc, as people wait for trains that never come or too busy to board. As the figures indicate that over 5,000 people a day use Mill Hill Broadway, this is a huge number of locals who are inconvenienced.

What disappoints me more than anything is that our local MP is the chair of the Thameslink group in the House of Commons (according to his website). I would expect such an insider to be tirelessly battling for us and campaigning on our behalf. I had a quick look through his recent Parliamentary activities. The last mention of Thameslink that I could find was on the 4th June, over three months ago. Mr Offord asked the following question and got the listed reply from Grayling

Photo of Matthew OffordMatthew Offord Conservative, HendonThis really is an appalling situation and one that we should have seen coming down the line given the history of the train operating companies. I have emails from my constituents that complain about lack of communication from Govia Thameslink. They say that the refund procedures are lengthy and difficult to navigate and that the timetable implementation has simply not worked. Will the Secretary of State give serious consideration to introducing a short deadline to ensure that GTR in particular brings the service up to an acceptable standard, or finding another train provider that will do so?

Chris Grayling The Secretary of State for TransportI am very clear that I expect GTR to deliver an improvement to the current situation as a matter of real urgency. If it does not do so, it will lack the credibility to continue as operator.

This is a pretty poor show. On Mr Offords website, he has a TAB that lists his plan. Item number 2 is one to get a "better deal for rail users". Sadly, as plans go, Mr Offords is far from cunning.  Below is the entire text of his plan

As a Hendon resident I am a regular user of the Northern Line and understand how important it is that hard working commuters and other Tube and train users have a smooth and comfortable journey.
I will continue to campaign for improvements to the Northern Line and Thameslink and am Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group to improve the Thameslink line.
It is no surprise to me that we are seeing such appalling service when our MP has so little interest and puts so little effort into representing his constituents interests. Whilst I have no wish to become the MP for Hendon, if I was, I would, like Mr Offord, have a plan for Rail users. Here is my plan.

1. Hold fortnightly meetings with the management of Govia and Network Rail, to update on progress to resolve the issues facing commuters, until such time as the timetabling issues were fully resolved. I would then hold monthly meetings. I would provide a full update on my website of these meetings.

2. I would hold monthly meetings with TFL to ensure that commuters issues are fully understood by TFL and the Mayor of London.

3. Hold monthly meetings with regular users of both the Northern Line and the Thameslink route, to ensure that I could properly represent my constituents.

4. I would draw up a list of transport improvements that would improve the lives of my constituents, and lobby tirelessly to make them happen. Amongst the proposals that I would champion are the following
 - Step Free Access for Mill Hill Broadway and Hendon Thameslink Stations
 - Step free access for Northern Line stations
 - Full support for the West London Orbital route, with provision for an extension of the plans to RAF museum in Hendon and Mill Hill Broadway.
- Work to secure the route of the disused railway between Mill Hill East and Edgware, initially as a dedicated cycle path, with a view to reviewing options for light rail or full reopening if possible.
- Ensure better integration of the rail, tube and bus networks and seek introduction of better cycling provision to rail hubs.
- work with residents groups, commuter associations and the industry to deliver these objectives.

Provide regular update on all of these via my website.

It may well be that Mr Offord doesn't think any of these ideas are a worthwhile use of his time representing the Constituency of Hendon. He has asked plenty of questions in Parliament since it resumed sitting earlier this month. I will leave you to decide whether these issues are more important to the average Hendon voter.

Photo of Matthew Offord

Matthew Offord Conservative, Hendon

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, whether he has made an assessment of the potential productivity of the livestock industry over the next six months.

Photo of Matthew OffordMatthew Offord Conservative, Hendon

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, whether he has made an assessment of the potential productivity of the arable industry over the next six months.

Photo of Matthew OffordMatthew Offord Conservative, Hendon

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, how many parking penalty charge notices were issued under the Forestry Commission Byelaws 1982 for (a) non-payment and (b) insufficient payment in 2017.

Photo of Matthew OffordMatthew Offord Conservative, Hendon

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, if he will seek a change through the International Maritime Organisation to ban ships from using heavy fuel oil when travelling in the Arctic and Antarctic regions.

Finally let me finish with my favourite of the lot. We have previously noted Mr Offords interest in Cheese shops. Now it seems that he's taken up the cudgels for our local potato farmers. I hadn't realised that these were more important to the local economy than the thousands who commute into the City, but as we all love a nice bag of chips, it shows he's got his finger on the pulse.

Photo of Matthew OffordMatthew Offord Conservative, Hendon

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what estimate he has made of the potato crop for England and Wales in 2018.
The answer is also quite fascinating (if you find counting potatoes fascinating).

Photo of George EusticeGeorge EusticeThe Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

With the cold, wet spring followed by the prolonged dry spell over June and July, some yield and quality issues are expected for the potato crop this year. The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) estimate that there is a 3% reduction in the planted area in Great Britain. The harvest is on-going and estimates of yield and production will be published in Agriculture in the UK next spring.

If it wasn't for the fact that thousands of commuters every day have been subjected to complete mayhem on Thameslink, you would be forgiven for thinking that maybe Mr Offord hasn't got much to do with himself.

Sunday, 16 September 2018

The Tweets of the Week in the London Borough of Barnet -16/9/2018

Without further ado, here is our round up. Don't forget to follow any tweeters who tickle your fancy!

1. This is a story we've been following for some time. Well done to Mark Amies for keeping this in the public eye

2. I suspect that many local commuters who've been toasted by Thameslink, subjected to delays etc, will be surprised to see that the new Thameslink trains have been deemed Train of the year at Rail Industry awards!

3. I daresay residents of Burnt Oak will be pleased

4. Some of our bus routes are changing. If you use the buses, check this out

5. This sight always gives me goosebumps

6. We love this

7. However this is tragic

8. Returning to the theme of undre threat pubs

9. Never forget that we've got great young people in the Borough

10. Our favourite Rugby team are doing the business for the community again

That's all folks!

Saturday, 15 September 2018

The Saturday List #188 - Ten things you can achieve by writing a blog!

Things we stand for
"What is the actual point of your blog?" This is a question I've lost count of the number of times. I am always reminded of the opening words of "Mother Sister" by The Fall. A voice says "What's this song about?", Mark E. Smith replies "Nothing!". I have never set out to write about anything, there is no theme. The blogs about Barnet Council are written without any agenda. I just happen to write about things that I see that I think deserve to be discussed in public. If there was nothing of interest, I'd never write anything about them. The Friday jokes I just publish because I get sent a list of jokes every week and I find some funny and I rather hope other people will. Sometimes I make them up. But the main reason I blog is because I've found it quite therapeutic. My blogs about dyslexia have actually helped me to understand myself. My blogs about Cancer have helped me deal with a major crisis in my life. The Tweets of the Week are simply things I've noticed that are interesting that I think readers may also be interested in. And it has been useful in promoting shows for my band. So the point of the blog is that there isn't really a point, but nonetheless the point is also that anyone who is interested in some of the stuff I am interested may find it helpful/enjoyable/informative/funny (Take your pick). But for something quite so pointless, as we approach our tenth birthday, I think I've achieved a hell of a lot. Here is a list of what I consider can be achieved, based on my proudest blog associated achievements.

1. You can inspire other people to write blogs, many of whom will actually do it far better than you. As the first of the Barnet Bloggers, it has been great to see Mr Reasonable, Mrs Angry and Mr Mustard emerge and each in there own way has made a huge contribution. It was quite amusing that on Tuesday, at the Budget Consultation session I sat with Mr Reasonable and Mrs Angry. At the end a nice chap from the Barnet Society bounded over and warmly greeted my two fellow bloggers. He said " I always read your blogs and they are amazing". I said "Hi, I'm Roger who writes the Barnet Eye and went to shake his hand". He sort of scowled at me and said "Oh yes, I've seen that as well", with the look of someone who has found himself stuck in a lift with Croydon cat killer and a bag of moggies.  I've always suspected that the worthies of High Barnet are not really too comfortable with us Mill Hill lowlife! What it shows is that in Barnet we cater for all tastes! This blog stands for Peace, Brotherhood, Consciousness and Conservation. We hope you do as well!

2. You can stop bad things from happening in your community. This blog has been at the forefront of numerous successful campaigns. Perhaps our proudest moment was saving Friern Barnet library from beings old off. It is still, rightfully, at the centre of our community. We have a couple of current campaigns, one is to Save the Railway in Edgware and the other is to Save The Midland Hotel in Hendon.

3. You can help and support local charities. This blog has always made a point of supporting important local charities, particularly Colindale Food Bank.

4. You can publicise great local events. I try and do this on a weekly basis through the Tweets of the Week and if there is a big event I will post a complete blog. This has been especially useful for the various music festivals we help run.

5. You can alert the public to local politicians who are not treating the public with the respect they deserve. I guess long standing readers will know exactly what and who I am talking about. Happily, the public decided they agreed with me and the last time he stood for election he got a measly 264 votes and was booted into oblivion.

6.  You can help people get through difficult times. My blogs on bereavement and Cancer have resulted in numerous private messages of thanks. In many ways, these are the blogs I am most proud of.

7. You can make people smile. The Friday joke is a long standing tradition on the blog. It was started by Vicki Morris, who was the second of the Barnet bloggers, but who moved to Nottingham a few years ago. My Dad always used to say to me "If you can make someone smile, the day has been worthwhile".

8. You can make people aware of things that other people were trying to cover up. Perhaps the best example of this is how the Barnet bloggers exposed the Metpro scandal. Our action has saved the Barnet Council Taxpayers over a million quid, which presumably has paid for the CEO and his deputy ever since!

9. You can sort your own, longstanding mental health problems out! It may sound quite strange, but writing about my dyslexia has forced me to deal with some very deep standing issues. There are some blogs that I've written on the subject that I have not published, because what I've written is so shocking that I really wouldn't want my children to see it (not things I've done, I hasten to add, but some of the experiences I have had that I have had to bury and lock away). The mere act of writing them down has forced me to deal with issues and I believe that this has made me far stronger and more able to deal with some issues that have caused me a lot of problems, mostly with anger.

10. You can share amazing things with the whole wide world! Today I will finish by sharing with you a Spotify Playlist I've just put together. This is the complete list of songs covered by my band, The False Dots in our long, illustrious 39 year career. This list is only ones we've publicly performed. Even if you don't like the Dot's I think this is a pretty damn fine playlist. Have a great weekend.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Guest Blog - The Ongoing Saga of Edgware’s Railway Hotel by Mark Amies

Mark Amies

By Mark Amies (AKA @Superfast72)

Some of you may be aware of my occasional rants on Twitter (on my handle @Superfast72) about the dear old Railway Hotel in Edgware. This Grade 2 Historic England Listed building served the people of Edgware for nearly eighty years, until it closed around 2008. Since then it has sat boarded up, and unloved. In recent years its grounds have been used as a car lot, a car wash and as a turnaround for coaches going to Eastern Europe.
I don’t know the exact year it was finished but I believe it was the late 1920’s. I will allow the author of ‘Modernism in Metroland’ (  - check it out, it is very good) to describe it better, “the Railway Hotel in Edgware by A.E. Sewell, the prolific in house architect for Truman Hanbury Buxton and Co. Defiantly neo-Tudor, with barge boards, half timbering and bay windows.

I moved into the area in 2013 (although I knew the area well enough before then), and I was really sad to see this once important local asset decaying and neglected, and so I kept an eye on it , occasionally taking photos and sticking them on my Twitter account, really just to keep it from being forgotten (if you search the tag #railwayhoteledgware , you will see some of them. I recall talking to the owner of the Edgware Music Shop a few years ago, and he had told me that the building had gone through a succession of owners, many of them eventually frustrated by the planning restrictions of the Listing Status.  But you see, that is why heritage buildings are listed – to stop them being ruined by insensitive and unsuitable renovations.

There had been talk of it being converted into a hotel again, and with the land behind it, that would probably have worked well….except who is going to come and stay in a heritage hotel in Edgware these days? Back in the day hotels of this nature served the needs of travelling salesmen, and being next to the original Edgware station ( that sat where Sainsbury’s and Premier House now are), it would have served very well.  There had also been shadowy rumour that in fact , what a developer had wanted to do was to demolish the building, buy up the old Post Office next to it,  the ‘Forum’ flats and shops that create an L shape onto the Edgware Road , and the land behind ,and let it fall into disrepair. Then the whole chunk of land could be turned over for a high density housing development.
Sound familiar? Very much the sort of thing Barnet RE are really enthusiastic about. If you combine that with the similarly dishevelled-looking Masons Arms pub nearby,  that’s another attractive ‘road corner prime position’ for a developer.  It all points to what we have seen so much of in North West London, vast areas of land freely handed over to unscrupulous developers, to build complexes of human rabbit hutches – all waived on by a Government that says we desperately need more housing. Yes, we do  - we need affordable housing, suitable for families to live in, not luxury flats that are unaffordable or future slums that look terrible after 18 months.
So…the saga of this building carried on, no pub chains were interested – believe me I tried to get them interested. I contacted Fullers, Antic and Youngs, all known for taking on heritage buildings. All declined. Sadly the area was the biggest issue for them. Edgware clearly didn’t tick the boxes, and let’s face it do you blame them? Edgware has fallen down in the last ten years, in no part due to Barnet Council effectively deserting the town like an unwanted child. It’s only desire to rubber stamp unsuitable developments like the revamped Premier House on Station Road.

However on Thursday evening I had a few emails from a person who had been in contact with me about The Railway Hotel before. They had seen my tweets and got in contact. Their enthusiasm for action was noble, and it was great to see at least another human being in the area was keen to look out for the building.  The thing about the recent email was it showed activity. “At last!”, I thought, but as I read on I got worried……very worried.  Apparently the building was being cleared, in preparation for flats on the upper floors , and a restaurant on the ground floor, and of some note, an ‘extension’.  Don’t get me wrong – it is great to see the building will be put back into a working role , rather than neglected. However the detail was showing that the clearing was fairly ruthless, and included the breaking up of concrete , the process of which was apparently causing the building to shake (remember we are talking about an eighty year old building with a  great deal of timber and glass, built before building regulations, and put up by guys wearing flat caps and smoking Woodbines).
I took a note of the building company and nowhere on the signage did it mention that they were specialists in heritage restoration. In fact it looked to me like it was just whoever turned up first in a local web search.  I have no reason to doubt the abilities of the builders but I would expect something more in keeping with the listed status of The Railway Hotel.

Now, here is where things get interesting. I had the time the following day (I had to wait in for a boiler repair guy), to do some emailing and calling.  Two of the people I contacted were Roger and Mrs Angry. I also contacted Historic England at their London Office, the Senior Planning Enforcement Officer at Barnet Council, the Twentieth Century Society , the three Barnet  Councillors for the ward the Railway Hotel sits in, a contact at GetWest London media, BBC London , and probably a few more.  A bit excessive you think?

Well, you can think that, but back in 1980, over the course of the August Bank Holiday weekend the fabulous Art Deco Firestone Tyre factory on the Great West Road, in Brentford was demolished. The listing that would have stopped this horror from happening was due to be served on the following Monday. Too little, too late. There is the example that a great many lovers of heritage buildings at risk will use. It would appear that my efforts may not have gone in vain. Despite the Barnet Planning Officer being rather shy , Historic England did get back to me that morning to inform me that …. Historic England have not been consulted on any recent applications for the site”.
I decided I would try, for the third time to call the shy Planning Enforcement Officer at Barnet, and they actually answered. In a tone and manner that I can only describe as emotionally detached, I was told that her manager was on the way to The Railway Hotel as we spoke to check what was happening. Does that not sound a little like negligence?  Barnet Council have a duty of care by law over the Railway Hotel, or indeed any listed building in its territory.
I don’t know if my hasty intervention, prompted by a well meaning individual ,( who I will not name out of respect), will save the Railway Hotel from a fate worse than death. All I can do is to keep it in the spotlight, so that people like you, reading this rather long article will be aware of what is going on with our shared built heritage. These buildings are more than just bricks and mortar, they are places where couples met, and later married, where events that shaped people’s lives took place – a pale youth’s first pint in a pub, a game of darts or pool that meant a lot, a wedding reception, a wake, or simply just a great night out, or lots of great nights out. These buildings are part of an area’s identity, its history. If we let them get desecrated, or demolished then we are letting a little bit of our collective soul be wiped from the present  and left only as a faded memory.

If The Railway Hotel gets restored to just a quarter of its former self, I will be delighted. If it provides a meaningful purpose for the local community (as it once did), even more so. If it provides someone with a much needed home, brilliant. But whatever happens it needs to be done with sensitivity, and within the boundaries of the listing status that was placed upon it.
Now get me a pint!!

Mark Amies, September 14th 2018