Thursday, 24 May 2018

Why do the Barnet Tories reward abject failure and despise compassion?

Firstly, apologies. I intended to write this blog yesterday, but I simply couldn't face immersing myself in the sewage that is the behaviour of our local Conservative group. So I had a day off, a pleasant cup of tea at Cafe Buzz, a long walk around Arrendene with the dog and a night on the tiles with my good mate Keith in Blackfriars, discussing football, children and the wedding (his forthcoming one, not all that business last weekend).

Sadly, my blissful day was interrupted by a phone call from Simon Allin at The Barnet Times. My attempts to bury my head in the sand and pretend that everything was fine and dandy in the world was ruined. Simon is the hard working and conscientious local politics reporter for the paper. He suffers all manner of infantile sniping from the likes of disgraced, convicted woman beater and ex councillor Brian Coleman on Twitter, who pedantically relish pedantically correcting Simon on a regular basis, for his lack of understanding of the byzantine ways of Barnet Council.

It comes as no surprise to me that Coleman was also enthusiastically retweeting the news that Councillor Reuben Thompstone has been elected by the Tory group as the new Mayor. Long time readers will remember that Coleman himself was Mayor in 2009. He has the inglorious title of being the only Mayor of Barnet found guilty of breaching the standards code whilst in office. Coleman revels in being an "ex Mayor", despite the fact that he was undoubtedly the least successful holder of the office and that his subsequent criminal record brings the whole office into disrepute. My own view is that any Ex Mayor who pleads guilty to beating women in court should have his picture removed from the Town Hall wall. There really should be a zero tolerance of such behaviour by the council.

I suspect that one reason that Coleman is so excited about the appointment of Reuben Thompstone is that he knows he may have the title of "worst Mayor of Barnet" wrenched from his sweaty palms. The newly elected Mayor has shown himself to be the most catastrophically ineffective councillor in the history of Barnet. For all his sins, Coleman was at least a mildly competent administrator, when he wasn't falling asleep at the desk or insulting people.

No one can make such a comment about Thompstone. In 2014 Thompstone was chair of the Budget Overview and Scrutiny Committee. His keynote policy was to cut the budget at Mapledown School ( a highly regarded special needs centre, looking after the most severely disabled children in the Borough). The cut specifically centred on afterschool and respite care, vital for parents with a 24 x 7  commitment to their children. The policy caused outrage. To their credit, three Tory Councillors, lead by Maureen Braun lead a revolt and threw out the cut. As best as I can remember, it is the only time that I've seen the Tories vote down one of their own policies. My blog from the night records the scenes for posterity.
"Councillor Maureen Braun, not a friend of this blog asked Rubes "Who is more vulnerable than disabled children". Rubes tried to string a sentence together, but failed. Braun had summed up the general feeling in the room. Rayner had sensed early on that the Tories were on a loser. He had spent the evening trying to figure out how to extract his reputation from this situation. He clearly didn't want to shaft Mapledown, but couldn't work out how to protect his Tory friend. He moved to a vote and to the amazement of all, Salinger and Braun, to their great credit voted to send the report back to the cabinet. In short a Tory Committee had agreed that the Mapledown cut was unfair and unjust and needed review.
Rayner realised that with an election looming, this presented a constitutional issue. He tried to get a council officer to help him out but no one really seemed to know. Rubes, a large man, seemed to have shrunk and seemed to resemble a demented leprechaun. He looked totally gutted."
It is interesting to note that the two councillors who had the guts to stand up for disabled children have gone. Salinger retired and Maureen Braun was deselected, much to her surprise, before the recent election. Reuben Thompstone is a big friend of the arch Tory plotter Daniel Thomas and it is pretty clear to me that this was payback.

But what of Thompstone (or Rubes as we lovingly call him). What did Big Rubes do next? One may have thought that having made such a monumental cock up, the Barnet Tories might have learned? Clearly not. The man was given the Children, Education and Libraries subcommittee chair (with the big fat allowance that goes with it). Barnet has long had a reputation for good educational services and excellent libraries. What could possibly go wrong? Where shall we start?

As the head of this committee, the first duty of Reuben Thompstone is to care about local children. Given that his former colleague Maureen Braun had noted that he didn't recognise that no one was more vulnerable than disabled children, it is not surprising what happened next. Thompstone embarked on a scorched earth policy with regards to libraries. The library space was halved, with libraries remodelled to create such things as "hubs" where businessmen can drink coffee and access the internet, where children used to read books. Librarians who welcomed people and helped them read were replaced with security guards, who sent them away if they didn't have the right card. Under 16's had access removed, meaning no quiet place for exam revision and no access to books for study. And all of this money saving came at a cost of £14 million. You really couldn't make it up.

That would be a massive scandal in itself. There is currently a challenge going to the secretary of state as there is evidence that it may be illegal. It is certainly discriminatory and many believe not compliant with the Libraries act. However it is dwarfed into insignificance by the failure of Childrens Services. An OFSTED report deemed the council to be failing. Essex County Council were brought in to take over and turn things around. Click here to read the whole sorry tale of woe. It seems that with competent management lead by Essex, things are now improving, but surely the councillor responsible - Rubes - should have been sacked? What organisation on earth would reward someone for such abject failure? The answer is The Barnet Conservatives. Reuben Thompstone has been reward with the Mayoralty. This is normally given to councillors with long service as a reward for doing a fantastic job. The outgoing Mayor was Brian Salinger. He was one of the longest serving councillors, former leader and a man steeped in public services. He was kept waiting nearly a decade for the honour. The difference was that he wasn't mates with Dan Thomas. He wasn't a yes man. The message that the elevation of Rubes sends loud and clear to all of the other Tory councillors is that "failure is fine so long as you put your hand up when we tell you".

Back in 2012 we made a film called "A Tale of Two Barnets". There is a modern update. "A Tale of Two Tories". One, Maureen Braun showed compassion for disabled children. Her payoff? A sneaky deselection. The other, Reuben Thompstone, showing no compassion, cocking up Childrens services and spending a fortune on making libraries less accessible. His reward, the best job in Barnet, a free limo, a big robe and load of bling.

It makes me sick. Over the years, I've always done what I can to support the Mayors Charity. I've given thousands of pounds, logisitical support, attended events etc. I am sorry to say that I will not be doing so this year. Councillor Reuben Thompstone is a complete disgrace and I will not be supporting this vicious charade. It seems I am not alone in this view.
Julia Hines is the former chair of Age UK Barnet.

I really have only one question for the Barnet Tories - Why do the they reward abject failure and despise compassion?

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

The North Finchley Festival 2018 - A weekend of fun in the Sun!

What a weekend that was! It started at around 12.30pm on Saturday with Keith Martin and guitarist Mike Ryan playing in Cafe Buzz and ended with The Silencerz at The Bohemia. 50 different acts at six venues. Six months in the planning and a weekend with virtually no sleep for us crew.

All in all approx 300 people performed across the six venues. We estimate that across the two days, 1,400 people showed up. Considering the Royal Wedding and The FA Cup were also taking place it was an amazing turnout. The festival was set up to give North Finchley a boost and certainly did that. On the Saturday night at The Elephant Inn, I spoke to several people who said they'd not been to North Finchley for live music since the heady days of The Torrington.

We had a team of six sound engineers running around keeping the show going, many thanks to Vince,  Boz, Gavin, Ted, Fil and Gerry who all put in long shifts (special thanks to Boz, who worked on his birthday weekend, to keep the sound going, having just got back from playing in Mexico with Morrissey!). I am lucky to be blessed with such a crew at Mill Hill Music Complex! We were sorry that our regular PA guy Stuart couldn't join us , and must say a special word of thanks to Gerry who dropped everything to assist with the transportation logistics.

The artists and bands all put in great shifts as well. I think we ticked just about every genre of popular music, Rock, Pop, Jazz, Folk, Rap, R&B, Indie, Choirs, Soul, Reggae and Ska (and apologies if I missed a few). As the logisitics co-ordinator, my job was to hop from venue to venue, ensuring all was OK. As this was the second year we ran the festival, it seemed to go far more smoothly than the 2017 festival. At each venue, a quick headcount of bums on seats so we can estimate the attendance, a conversation with the engineers, and running around picking up items such as spare amplifiers, leads and drum keys. Whilst everyone else was enjoying themselves, I had to make do with a couple of sneaky shandies to stave off dehydration.

As for the venues, Senan at the Bohemia is a star. He has supported the festival since its conception and works harder than anyone, whilst still trying to run a pub. Helen at Cafe Buzz is also a Trojan! (I guess that is not the best compliment for her, given the history of the Hellenic wars, but you know what I mean). The teams at the Elephant, M's and Asoo's were also most hospitable. I will definitely be checking out Asoo's Bollywood night on a Saturday which looks brilliant, we only saw the start as we were taking PA systems out. I didn't make it down to Toolan's as they sorted out their own sound system, but the reports were good!

As well as being a festival organiser, I also had the pleasure of playing at The Bohemia with The False Dots. We had a decent audience and they got quite lively during the set. Last year, the gig was held downstairs, this year upstairs. Both had their advantages and disadvantages. We brought in a stage and some lights and with Vince doing the sound, it was a really pleasant gig to play.

We owe much to our sponsors, who's generosity meant it could happen. A big shoutout to Joseph Partners, Barnet Council, Waitrose and Jeremy Leaf & Co who stumped up the cash to pay for  the running expenses. Also thanks to Keith and Pam for the work behind the scenes on Festival finances, and all the back office crew who did the social media and mailing.

On the thanks front, we finish with a shout out to Robert Elms and Jo Good at BBC Radio London for their support plugging the festival on their respective shows. Many of the punters mentioned this and with the cup final and the wedding, it was essential to have the plugs! Thanks!

We put together a little show reel for posterity of some of the finest acts at the venues. We hope you enjoy!

We are all looking forward to doing it all again next year!

Monday, 21 May 2018

The Great Thameslink Timetable fiasco

Today we see the new Thameslink Timetable. The good news is that there is a massive increase in the number of tranis to central London and a whole selection of new destinations, such as Rainham in Kent. The bad news?

At the moment 40% of the next trains are cancelled. The Thameslink Twitter feed is packed with comments that trains aren't running and there is total chaos. Every tweet is from a person who is late for a job, medical appointment, flight..... It is simply not good enough. One has to assume that in this day and age, they know how many trains they've got, when they should get there and how many people will be on them. It simply isn't good enough. Since Govia took over running the franchise we've seen continual mayhem.

The excuse seems to be "it's a new timetable so we are having teething problems". I really find this quite hard to square off with what has happened. One has top presume they have enough trains and drivers to run the service and know when trains have to be in place. I could understand a few turning up late if services end up busier than anticipated, but as there are more trains, can't really understand this causing so many cancellations etc. You would think that on a day when a new timetable is launched, they'd throw the kitchen sink at making it work and do everything possible to make sure the service runs.

If the timetable doesn't work today, will it work tomorrow? I do hope this is a one off caused by a few train drivers having hangovers and throwing sickies after the Royal Wedding. I sincerely hope it's not a case of  "The wrong type of timetable" and this becomes a permanent feature of the daily commute

Saturday, 19 May 2018

The Saturday List #175 - 10 acts you shouldn't miss at The North Finchley Festival today!

Today is the day. A years planning and a shedload of effort. The North Finchley Festival is here! All of the acts are great, but here are my personal picks (I've listened to all of them!).

1. Well its my blog, so it's only natural that  we'll start with my band, The False Dots! We are playing at 9pm at The Bohemia tomorrow.  I like to think we're rather entertaining. Please say hi when you come down.

2. At 5pm this evening we've got the amazing Scarlett Coast at Asoos. A great accompanyment to a swift lager and a few bhaji's!

3.The Amazing Fil Ross and The Rock and Roll Sons are headlining at The Elephant Inn tonight at 10pm. If you like Rock and Roll, you'll love these boys!

4. The Silencerz close the festival at The Bohemia tomorrow. Awesome for all of you Ska lovers!

5. Alex is amazing, cathc him at Cafe Buzz at 5pm tomorrow.

6. How about some Americana at The Elephant inn tomorrow?

7. Catch Wondrwoman at The Bohemia Sunday at 8pm!

8. Kado are an amazing jazz funk band. Live at The Elephant tomorrow

9. One of my favourite artists the amazing Natalie Miranda is at M's, she is a brilliant singer

10. And some amazing acoustic guitar at Cafe Buzz!

That's all folks!

Friday, 18 May 2018

The Friday Joke - 18/05/2018

I was out at one of Mill Hill's more upmarket drinking establishments, when my good friend Big Paul walked in. He came up to the bar, placed a jar on the counter and ordered a Martini. When it was delivered, he took out the Olive, and downed the Martini in one. He then ordered another Martini and repeated the process.  When the jar was filled with olives and he made to leave.  As I was rather puzzled by this odd behaviour, I asked "What was that all about with the jar?"
Big Paul replied, "my wife sent me out for a jar of olives and I couldn't be bothered walking down to the shops"

(All characters and events in this joke are fictional, although loosely based on the behaviour of certain people I know).

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Barnet Council Copthall Sports Hub and Mill Hill Open Spaces Draft Masterplan

Barnet Council have published the draft Masterplan for the Copthall Sports Hub and Open spaces. It is a very interesting document and there is much to commend about it.

We have not studied it in detail therefore we do not wish to comment in too much detail at this stage. Clearly there are concerns about aspects of the masterplan, with Green belt issues and cycleways being two areas that aroused most interest and comment. It is good that the issue of a shared cycleway/walkway between Copthall and Mill Hill East has been explored. We would like to see a more ambitious use of the available space, with the cyclewalkway route following the old railway all the way up to Mill Hill East station and to the Broadwalk Shopping Centre in the other direction (where possible).

The wetlands proposal is interesting and adds a new dimension to the space.

 Clearly there is a need for far better sports provision.  It is good to see the BMX provision in the scheme, although I am not so convinced that a "public square" is a step in the right direction.

The section on Mill Hill Park is interesting. I am rather averse to the term "hub". In building terms, to me this says "Jack of all trades". What Mill Hill needs is specific proposals to address specific weaknesses in local community offering. I am not saying the Hub is a bad scheme, but I am not a believer in "open a building and they will come". I've made that mistake myself in the past in my own businesses. We need specific offerings for specific needs.

But this is a draft and so have a read and feed back your comments.

You can read it by clicking here or using the version we've embedded below.


Wednesday, 16 May 2018

The Wednesday Poem #44 - Memories of a Free Festival (in honour of the North Finchley Festival this weekend!)

Oh Lord, do I miss David Bowie. I doubt that there is any artist who had such a diverse body of work. Bowie was one of the main reasons I got into music. One of the reasons, I spend my life organising music festivals. This weekend, we have a Free Festival in North Finchley! Six venues and over 50 bands! What more could you want?

We are pleased to welcome a brand new venue to the Festival family. Asoos Indian restaurant are joining in the fun. Why not drop in for a tasty Bhaji, a chicken tikka and a vindaloo before heading on down  to the Bohemia and the Elephant in to dance the night away. What better sort of festival could there be!

As I was sitting, poring over the schedules, Bowie's "Memory of a Free Festival" popped up on my Spotify playlist. This song is a real inspiration for me. I love the concept of Free music festivals. I've played a few over the years. The Montrose Festival in Burnt Oak Park, The Grahame Park Festival, Jesterfest in Fortune Green, The Mill Hill Music Festival and of course last years North Finchley Festival (as well as a few rather less formal festivals that we've played over the years).

This is a beautiful song. I absolutely love the Coda of the song (the bit at the end for you non muso's). What other poem could we possible choose for this weeks Wednesday poem. I was tempted to make a "found poem" using this and a few others, but decided that I really couldn't better the work of the master.

I'd love a few of our readers to submit some poetry about local events (past, present and future). I really love the concept

Memory Of A Free Festival

The Children of the summer's end
Gathered in the dampened grass
We played Our songs and felt the London sky
Resting on our hands
It was God's land
It was ragged and naive
It was Heaven

Touch, We touched the very soul
Of holding each and every life
We claimed the very source of joy ran through
It didn't, but it seemed that way
I kissed a lot of people that day

We scanned the skies with rainbow eyes 
and saw machines of every shape and size
We talked with tall Venusians passing through
And Peter tried to climb aboard 
but the Captain shook his head
And away they soared Climbing 
through the ivory vibrant cloud
Someone passed some bliss among the crowd
And We walked back to the road, unchained

The Sun Machine is Coming Down, and We're Gonna Have a Party
The Sun Machine is Coming Down, and We're Gonna Have a Party
The Sun Machine is Coming Down, and We're Gonna Have a Party
The Sun Machine is Coming Down, and We're Gonna Have a Party
 The Sun Machine is Coming Down, and We're Gonna Have a Party.

Come on down at the weekend and join in the fun!

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

North Finchley Festival Highlights - The False Dots live at The Bohemia - Sunday 9pm

If you are around North Finchley on Sunday night at around 9pm, you have the choice of two awesome bands to watch. At the Elephants head, there is the amazing Kado. They are an amazing Jazz funk band and I am gutted to be missing them.

Unfortunately for me, I've got another appointment just down the road. I will be playing with my own band, the False Dots, at the Bohemia. We will be the main support to the awesome Silencerz, who feature Lee Thompson from Madness on Saxophone.  Normally you'd have to shell out big wonga to see Lee play, so to see him for free is a real treat!

Music has always been my number one passion in life. I founded the band in 1979 and we performed our first gig in 1980. It was a hastily arranged gig for Rock Against Racism. A chaotic affair, we borrowed Dav, the drummer from Alan Warner of the Foundations and our singer didn't bother to turn up! Despite all of that it was a brilliant night and it gave me the bug.

As a sixteen year old, the concept that I'd still be playing 38 years later would have seemed a little strange, but here we are. The lineup we play with now was our 1985 lineup, augmented by Fil Ross on bass guitar. Last Saturday, we performed at our singer, Allen Ashley's 60th birthday party at the Kings Head in Enfield. When Allen isn't singing with the False Dots, he is an author and poet and he runs various writing groups across Barnet and Enfield. I was very pleasantly surprised to find that quite a few stalwarts of various Barnet campaigns I've supported and many Barnet Eye readers are also members of the various writing groups Allen runs. Allen hadn't told them that the Dots were performing (in fact many didn't know he was our singer, as they simply knew him from the writing group). It was an excellent night. Perhaps the most touching moment was when Allen's wife Sarah presented a book she'd put together with contributions from his writing group.

Of course The False Dots are a completely different beast from Allens literary and poetic activities. Although our songs are finely crafted, we are a full on Rock and Roll band with a long pedigree. I daresay a few of Allens writing group would have been surprised to see a completely different side to Allens personality. The False Dots have put the finishing touches recently to our forthcoming album "Songs of Love and War" and will be previewing these, along with some newer material at the show on Sunday.

As well as Allen we have Fil Ross on Bass. Fil has played bass with the band since 1998 and is also wicked lead guitarist. His other band, The Rock and Roll Sons will be headlining at The Elephants Head on Saturday at 10pm. Fil is always value for money. A brilliant live performer. Anyone who has seen the False Dots or the Rock and Roll sons will testify that there is no shoegazings at our gigs!

The False Dots in Belgium 1985
I must also say a word about Graham Ramsey, our long time drummer. Graham is a force of nature. He has probably played with more bands in the London Borough of Barnet than any person alive. At our last public gig at The Midland Hotel, he played with the support KatManDo and then jumped up for an impromptu set with The Hamptons, as they were short of a drummer. When I first met Graham, he was one of the Mill Hill East mods. Paul Marvin, son of the legendary Hank introduced me to him in early 1980, in awed tones "Graham is the best drummer in North London".

The False Dots 2018
I immediately wanted Graham to join the band, but he was with a very successful band called the B'zukas, wheras we had yet to play a gig. Eventually I persuaded Graham to join in 1985, at the same time as Allen. Graham immediately showed what he brought to the band in terms of musical creativity. He isn't someone to just tap along in the background. His drumming is all about dynamics and creativity. Unlike 99% of drummers he plays an active role in arrangements, adding dynamism and beats that on one else on the planet would play. As well as the creative input, I also quickly found out that Graham was also ambitious. He managed to blag The False Dots onto a trip to Belgium at the end of 1985 (see picture above). Graham to this day continues to blag the Dots and all of the other bands he's involved with onto gigs all over the place.

The False Dots are in some ways almost unique. All of us are involved in other musical/creative projects. All of us are outspoken, opinionated, all from very different backgrounds. Whilst you may think this would cause musical differences, in fact it has built a huge mutual respect. Musically we all push each other onwards and upwards. I think the material we've written in the last few years is the best of our career. If you come down on Sunday night and you enjoy live music, you will not be disappointed. Here is a little sample of what you will be missing if you decide to stop in and listen to The Archers on iPlayer! This is a very live video!

Monday, 14 May 2018

The full Line up for the North Finchley Festival!

This weekend we see the 2nd annual North Finchley Festival. There are some absolutely amazing acts playing (I know, I put the program together and listened to every single one of them). Here is the full schedule. Make sure you make it down! Over the next week we will be featuring details of each venue and previewing some of the amazing acts who will be appearing so watch this space.

Make sure you come down and join in the fun. Many thanks to our sponsors for their generosity.

Special thanks to Mill Hill Music Complex for PA and Logistics support.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

The Tweets of the Week in the London Borough of Barnet - 13/5/2017

Here are this weeks selection, don't forget to follow any tweeters who tickle your fancy

1. Great post from the Mill Hill Historical Society

2. Lovely pic of one of Mill Hill's landmark

3. Nioe post from one of our regulars


5.  And a great pic of a Finchley Landmark

6. A date (ow two) for your diary!

7. Looking for some great live music tonight?

8. And another date for the diary for all plant lovers!

9. Congratulations to Helen Michael at Cafe Buzz for a truly amazing achievement!

10. And Mill Hill is seeing some amazing music being made!

That's all folks!