Saturday, 6 February 2016

The Saturday List #80 - The ten best things in the London Borough of Barnet (and ten we lost)

We haven't had a list for a long time, so here it is

The Mill Hill Observatory
1. The RAF Museum.
2. The Phoenix Cinema
3. La Deliverance at Henlys Corner
4. The Arts Depot
5. Totteridge Valley walks
6. Mill Hill Observatory
7. Burnt Oak Fish Market (Fishmongers)
8. Golders Hill Park
9. Saracens RFC
10. The Welsh Harp

And here is the ten that we've lost

All that is left of Mill Hill The Hale Station
1. Mill Hill Open Air Swimming Pool (Now Etz Haim Free School)
2. Barnet Football Club (Now in Harrow)
3. Church Farmhouse Museum
4. Hendon Odeon cinema
5. The Torrington Music venue
6. The Mill Hill East to Edgware branch of the Northern Line
7. Woolworths
8. Canoeing at Stonegrove Park
9. The 251 Bus to Stanmore
10. Burnt Oak Market

Do you agree? What should have been on the list? What have we lost that should have been on the list?

Friday, 5 February 2016

Funny old world, is that it?

Back in 1979, when we first formed The False Dots, myself and Pete Conway wrote a song called 'Uncle Charlie's Dead'.  It tells the sad story of Uncle Charlie falling down the stairs, in the dark. We were watching a TV program, possibly Nationwide and there was a bloke talking about how his Uncle Charlie had his electricity cut off. He got up in the middle of the nigh and sadly fell down the stairs. He said 'Uncle Fred was asleep and he heard a bang. He got up and there was Uncle Charlie at the bottom of the stairs, dead. I think he hit his head on the banisters'.

So the chorus went

Now Uncle Charlie's dead,
A bannister collided with his head,
He was found by uncle Fred,
Who heard a bump upstairs in bed.

The original working title of the song was 'The electricity board are Bastards'. But we decided that Uncle Charlie's Dead was a far better title.

So here we are, nearly 40 years later and who would have thought that pensioners would still be freezing to death in winter, living in poverty, being advised by the council to go and sit in the library to keep warm.

Funny old world, isn't it?

The Friday Joke - 5/2/2016

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, 4 February 2016

The 2016 Barnet Council governance project - No 19 - Street trading contraventions

Today we look at breaches of street trading rules. What are Barnet Council doing to enforce the rules.

From: Roger Tichborne 
Sent: 04 February 2016 10:41
To: ''
Subject: Freedom of Information request - Action against illegal/unauthorised street trading in the London Borough of Barnet

Dear FoI Barnet,

Please can you supply the following from Jan 1 2015 to 4 Feb 2016.

1.       Number of Barnet traders identified as in breach of street trading rules.
2.       Number of Barnet traders receiving written warnings from Barnet council for street trading infringements.
3.       Number of Barnet traders interviewed under caution regarding infringements for street trading infringements.
4.       Number of Barnet traders who have been the subject of surveillance operations.
5.       Number of Barnet traders prosecuted for infrigements of street trading laws.

Roger Tichborne

How do the Barnet Conservatives choose their committee chairmen?

Last week I attended the Barnet Council audit committee. As I mentioned at the time, I was completely underwhelmed with the performance of the chair of the committee, Councillor Brian Salinger. I wrote a blog detailing just what an awful job Councillor Salinger was doing. Given that audit is probably the most important committee, I had to wonder just how he was chosen. My mind was cast back to the early years of the last decade. At the time I was working in an office near Aldgate. Every day I'd nip down to Sidoli's in Leman ST, a family run cafe, and get a cup of tea from Marge. The cafe had been there since the 1950's and Marge would often tell us how when she started "The cafe was always full of seamen from the docks" (to general myrth). By the 1990's the dockers and seamen had been replaced by yuppies and bankers. Over the road from Sidoli's a lap dancing club had opened. The manager was a larger than life character, who was full of interesting stories.

One day, we were all having a cuppa and a chinwag and he told us he'd just interviewed three new lapdancers. He said that he asked all three the same question. He said "if you are doing a dance in the private booth and when the punter has gone, you notice he's dropped his wallet with £500 in it what do you do".

The first girl said "I'd run after the punter and return his wallet"
The second one said "I'd take the money, put the wallet in the bin and deny all knowledge if asked"
The third one said "I'd take the money and give you half, then put the wallet in the bin"

He then asked me and Marge, "which girl should I employ". Marge said girl no 1 on the grounds she was the most honest. I countered and said "Girl two as she is probably the only one telling the truth and so at least you know where you stand with her. He laughed and said "no you're both wrong". So we asked "so which one would you employ?" He replied "The one with the biggest tits of course".

You may wonder what this has to do with Barnet Council? Well, the manager of the lapdancing club gave an insight into what it takes to run an organisation successfully. Whether or not you like his business, or his answer, he demonstrated that he was empoying the person best equipped to do the job. It isn't a pleasant job and honesty is not a primary requirement for his business.In his judgement and experience, he chose the girl who was best equipped for the task.

Broken bins
The problem with Barnet Council is that there is no such focus. The chair of each committee gets an allowance of over £15,000 for their efforts. This is our money. We pay it in taxes and in return we expect the council to spend it wisely. Sadly in Barnet the jobs are divvied up as political favours, not based on the 'assets" of the individuals. Another important committee is the Environment Committee chaired by Dean Cohen. Anyone who has seen Cohen in action will recognise that he is totally out of his depth.  It is 100% clear that his appointment was purely a dog bone to someone the leadership viewed as politically useful. Since taking over from the disasterous reign of Brian Coleman, Cohen has singularly failed to achieve anything. When he took over, Brian Colemans policy of abolishing pay and display had laid waste to high street businesses. It was clear that the policy should be reversed in short order. Cohen lacked the cojones to do this. Eventually a sort of half way house was established, with a few machines being installed, that took credit cards. Whilst this is better than a mobile only solution, it was so clearly a bad political fudge. There is no leadership and no direction to the environment policy. 

Walking around Mill Hill park this week demonstrated this. Dangerous man hole covers and broken bins. I am particularly concerned about this manhole cover. Many young people frequent the park after dark. This is a highly dangerous feature, which could cause a severe injury. In cold weather, if you broke your leg it may even prove fatal. it used to be the case that local councillors would work with the chair of such committees to ensure that their patch was spotless. Sadly under the reign of Cohen, the concept has gone out of the window and all we ever get is excuses for inaction.

What do the committee do? They most certainly don't ensure that the environment is looked after. I have no idea why Dean Cohen has been chosen, but he doesn't cut the mustard.

Then we have the Children, Education, Libraries & Safeguarding Committee which is chaired by the truly horrible Rueben Thompstone. Thompstone managed the near impossible and forced Tory uber loyalist Maureen Braun to rebel over the closure of after school services at Mapledown School. He is currently overseeing the destruction of the Barnet Libraries network. There is no councillor more popous and condescending in the whole of the council. One Tory councillor who I get oin quite well with joked about Thompstone that there are two types of people those that dislike him and those that haven't met him. I asked why he was chosen for such a role, the repsonse "I suppose it is because he's a teacher". It must be said that he gets on quite well with one person, Dan Thomas who is the deputy leader of the council. Thomas sees Thompstone as a useful foil for unpopular policies. Given his personality, he acts as a lighetning rod for protests, deflecting flak from the puppet master pulling the strings. Anyone who has ever watched Thompstoen closely will have seen how he watches Thomas like a hawk for signals as to what to do. It is clar to anyone who has attended any Council meeting to discuss libraries that Thompstone,w ho clearly wasn't born or raised in the Borough, has no understanding of the role libraries play in the lives of local families. It is not unreasonable to expect a chair of the committee who has at least got some sort of understanding of what the service provides.

Another wholly inappropriate choice of chairman is councillor Tom Davey as chair of the housing committee. You will see from his declaration of interests that Cllr Davey is a financial analyst for British American Tobacco. Davey has made many pronouncemens about social housing tenants. Like many well to do young men who have had a priveliged start in life, Mr Davey has no real experience of the lives of people his decisions affect so greviously. Mr Davey is apparently a landlord. One has to assume that the salary of a financial analyst for a tobacco firm is either massively well paid or mummy and daddy have helped out with his property purchases. Given his age and his listed property is in one of the most well sought after cul-de-sacs in Mill Hill, it is fair to assume that the plight of young people seeking social housing in Barnet are a million miles away from his personal experience. I suppose it is ironic that many of his fellow Tory members find the fact that many social housing tenants and benefit recipients spend cash on the addictive products that Mr Davey's firm produce distasteful. Mr Davey clearly sees no problem with the sale of addictive and dangerous products and one assumes that his analysis produces information which is used to justify a product which has killed and caused debiliating illness to millions of UK citizens. We have to ask, what experience he has he got to justify this important role? As a private landlord, his income is presumably affected by the provision of social housing, as all commercial rents are dictated by the laws of supply and demand. Am I alone in seeing a clash.

Finally we look at the Planning Committee. The chair of this is Melvin Cohen. He is Dean Cohens dad. Councillor Cohen is a lawyer by trade (according to his declaration). Given the huge amount of building going on in the Borough, this is a massively important committee. By all accounts Councillor Cohen is reasonably effective as chair when dealing with small scale planning applications in nice leafly suburban areas such as Edgware, Golders Green and Mill Hill. The problem is that the vast majority of planning applications that are phase shifting the nature of the Borough are mega developments in places like Brent Cross, West Hendon and the Inglis Barracks in Mill Hill. Cohen has shown himself to be completely out of his depth. In fact I get the impression that the whole Tory team on the planning committee are genuinely clueless when it comes to what is happening in our Borough. I have no idea if any of the Tories actually have any interest at all in ensuring a mixed neighbourhood, social housing or green spaces are preserved in planning applications, but there has been scant indications of this.

For Barnet to remain a great place to live, all of the committees I've mentioned need strong chairmen. If they don't do their job, then our Borough and our lifestyle will be trashed. We are aready seeing huge pressure on roads, schools, hospitals and police. When I a teenager, we had two A&E hospitals in the Borough. In that period the population of the Borough has increased by 50% yet we've lost one of these. Try applying for a school place. My eldest daughter was declined a place at the nearest secondary school to us on "catchment", despite living less than 1 mile from the establishment. She ended up having to take a bus to Finchley every day.  This is the monster they are creating.

A final word for the Labour group. It is simply not good enough to go along with these lacklustre Tory placemen. They need to use every meeting to ram home the message that the Tories are getting  a massive payout and they are not cutting the mustard. They are singularly failing to do this. They need to get on top of their briefs and start holding these rather ineffectual placemen to account.

When I was chatting with my friendly Tory councillor I told him the joke about the manager at the lap dancing club. He roared with laughter. He wryly commented "We can't choose people like that in the council". Of course he's right, but what he didn't say was how they did choose them. I guess the reason is because it is even more embarrassing.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Guest Blog - Stronger in Europe; how Barnet benefits and how you can show your support - By Alasdair Hill

By Alasdair Hill,
This year we face a difficult choice that will determine the future of the United Kingdom on the world stage. Our economy, climate and industries will change whether the UK votes to remain a member of the EU or not. It is my belief, and one I hope you share, that Britain’s prosperity rests with cooperation and unity with our oldest allies.

The European Union brings many benefits to us in Barnet; both financial and cultural. As well as ensuring UK industries and services can trade with our nearest neighbours freely and without tariff the EU brings in investment which we can feel right here in Mill Hill. Indeed the UK is home to some of the best research institutions in the world; the MRC Laboratories on The Ridgeway included. By being a member of the EU we gain access to millions of pounds of research funding in medicine, environment and space technology. The UK is home to the brightest and best and thus we receive the lion’s share of the funding; boosting our world-leading research sector. By closing the door we risk hollowing out one of the key industries we excel at.

Culturally, Barnet, like the rest of London, is a mirror to the make-up of Europe. This is something we should be proud of. Living together we learn more about ourselves and make long lasting connections across the continent which in the process breaks down misconceptions and builds peace between nations. We benefit as much as other nations in the EU from the free movement of people allowing us to work, export and holiday across the continent with ease.

But over and above the arbitrary statistics both sides of the debate will use to convince you to vote, is the ethos in which the United Kingdom espouses the virtues of tolerance, internationalism and brotherhood. 

At a time where increased uncertainty threatens liberal democracies across the world we should not be turning our back in the name of fear and self-interest. The only way you can fight the borderless enemies of climate change, organised crime and terrorism is through cooperation. It is this philosophy that underpins the very need for the UK to remain in the European Union.
There is much both sides of the political spectrum can benefit from EU membership; it is a misconception that EU regulation is a plight on our society.  For some, we can  appreciate EU regulation that supports maternity and holiday rights in work. For others, we can be encouraged by the EU support of an individual’s basic human rights. All benefit from the prosperity that EU membership ensures UK, allowing businesses to trade in European markets competitively. Finally we can all benefit from the action to tackle carbon-emissions for the good of our and the planet’s health.

It is in this light that I hope residents and activists across Barnet and across the political divide can come together and fight for our continued membership of the EU. Through the non-party “Britain Stronger In Europe” group we are hosting an informal meet and greet at The Bohemia, North Finchley on Tuesday 9th February from 7pm.

If you want to share your thoughts or learn more about how the UK is stronger in the EU please come down and start a conversation!
I hope to see you there.
RSVP on Facebook or Eventbrite
Guest blogs are always welcome at the Barnet Eye. Alasdair Hill is a Barnet resident. 

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Josephine Baker - The greatest 20th century woman

 Josephine Baker
I was thinking of publishing a Barnet Eye list of greats. I have a lifelong love of music, engineering, football and cooking. I started compiling a list of the greatest of each. As I think you need a degree of historical context, I thought that we'd limit it to the 20th Century. I started with music. I thought I'd start with female singers. I made my shortlist. The criteria was the female musician who had the greatest influence on music in the 20th Century. Some of the names easily rolled off. No list (of mine) would be complete without the likes of Billie Holiday, Janis Joplin, Debbie Harry, Patti Smith and Joni Mitchell. There was name I felt could not be missed off from this, which some of you may be less familar with. This is Josephine Baker.

I first came to know of Josephine Baker for her 1929 version of Blue Skies, which was my fathers favourite song (it was played at his funeral). When I started to research the achievements of the various ladies on the list, I was taken with the fact that whilst Baker is relatively less well known as a musician, her legacy was massive, way beyond any of the the others. All are great singers, but BAker contributed so much more in her life. I was intrigued to find that she was the only American-born woman to receive full French military honors at her funeral.

Baker dropped out of school at the age of 13 and lived as a street child in the slums of St. Louis, sleeping in cardboard shelters and scavenging for food in garbage cans. This inauspicious start did not hold her back.  Her street-corner dancing attracted attention, and she was recruited for the St. Louis Chorus vaudeville show at the age of 15. She headed to New York City during the Harlem Renaissance, performing at the Plantation Club and in the chorus of the groundbreaking and hugely successful Broadway revues Shuffle Along (1921) with Adelaide Hall and The Chocolate Dandies (1924). She performed as the last dancer in a chorus line. Traditionally the dancer in this position performed in a comic manner, as if she were unable to remember the dance, until the encore, at which point she would perform it not only correctly but with additional complexity. Baker was billed at the time as "the highest-paid chorus girl in vaudeville". Baker’s career began with her doing black face comedy at local clubs, this was the “entertainment” that her mother did not approve of. Black face performances landed Baker an opportunity to tour in Paris, which would become the place she called home until her final days.

After a short while, Baker was the most successful American entertainer working in France. Ernest Hemingway called her "the most sensational woman anyone ever saw."[18][19]
In addition to being a musical star, Baker also starred in three films which found success only in Europe: the silent film Siren of the Tropics (1927), Zouzou (1934) and Princesse Tam Tam (1935). She also starred in Fausse Alerte in 1940.

This was where the story really gets interesting. In September 1939, when France declared war on Germany in response to the invasion of Poland, Baker was recruited by Deuxième Bureau, French military intelligence, as an "honorable correspondent". Baker collected what information she could about German troop locations from officials she met at parties. She specialized in gatherings at embassies and ministries, charming people as she had always done, while gathering information. Her café-society fame enabled her to rub shoulders with those in the know, from high-ranking Japanese officials to Italian bureaucrats, and to report back what she heard. She attended parties at the Italian embassy without raising suspicions and gathered information.

When the Germans invaded France, Baker left Paris and went to the Château des Milandes, her home in the south of France. She housed friends who were eager to help the Free French effort led by Charles de Gaulle and supplied them with visas. As an entertainer, Baker had an excuse for moving around Europe, visiting neutral nations such as Portugal, as well as some in South America. She carried information for transmission to England, about airfields, harbors, and German troop concentrations in the West of France. Notes were written in invisible ink on Josephine's sheet music.

Later in 1941, she and her entourage went to the French colonies in North Africa. The stated reason was Baker's health (since she was recovering from another case of pneumonia) but the real reason was to continue helping the Resistance. From a base in Morocco, she made tours of Spain. She pinned notes with the information she gathered inside her underwear (counting on her celebrity to avoid a strip search). She befriended the Pasha of Marrakech, whose support helped her through a miscarriage (the last of several). After the miscarriage, she developed an infection so severe it required a hysterectomy. The infection spread and she developed peritonitis and then septicemia. After her recovery (which she continued to fall in and out of), she started touring to entertain British, French, and American soldiers in North Africa. The Free French had no organized entertainment network for their troops, so Baker and her friends managed for the most part on their own. They allowed no civilians and charged no admission.
In Cairo, Egypt's King Farouk asked her to sing; she refused because Egypt had not recognized Free France and remained neutral. However, she offered to sing in Cairo at a celebration of honor for the ties between Free France and Egypt, and asked Farouk to preside, a subtle indication of which side his officially neutral country leaned toward. After the war, Baker received the Croix de guerre and the Rosette de la Résistance. She was made a Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur by General Charles de Gaulle.

Fighting the good cause did not stop at the end of the war.  In 1949, a reinvented Baker returned in triumph to the Folies Bergere. Bolstered by recognition of her wartime heroics, Baker the performer assumed a new gravitas, unafraid to take on serious music or subject matter. The engagement was a rousing success, and reestablished Baker as one of Paris' preeminent entertainers.

In 1951 Baker was invited back to the United States for a nightclub engagement in Miami. After winning a public battle over desegregating the club's audience, Baker followed up her sold-out run at the club with a national tour. Rave reviews and enthusiastic audiences accompanied her everywhere, climaxed by a parade in front of 100,000 people in Harlem in honor of her new title: NAACP's "Woman of the Year." Her future looked bright, with six months of bookings and promises of many more to come.

An incident at the Stork Club interrupted and overturned her plans. Baker criticized the club's unwritten policy of discouraging black patrons, then scolded columnist Walter Winchell, an old ally, for not rising to her defense. Winchell responded swiftly with a series of harsh public rebukes, including accusations of Communist sympathies (a serious charge at the time). The ensuing publicity resulted in the termination of Baker's work visa, forcing her to cancel all her engagements and return to France. It was almost a decade before US officials allowed her back into the countryIn January 1966, Fidel Castro invited Baker to perform at the Teatro Musical de La Habana in Havana, Cuba at the 7th anniversary celebrations of his revolution. Her spectacular show in April broke attendance records. In 1968, Baker visited Yugoslavia and made appearances in Belgrade and in Skopje.

Although based in France, Baker supported the American Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s. When she arrived in New York with her husband Jo, they were refused reservations at 36 hotels because she was black. She was so upset by this treatment that she wrote articles about the segregation in the United States. She also began traveling into the South. She gave a talk at Fisk University, a historically black college in Nashville, Tennessee, her subject being "France, North Africa And The Equality Of The Races In France".

She refused to perform for segregated audiences in the United States, although she was offered $10,000 by a Miami club. (The club eventually met her demands). Her insistence on mixed audiences helped to integrate live entertainment shows in Las Vegas, Nevada, then one of the most segregated cities in America. After this incident, she began receiving threatening phone calls from people claiming to be from the Ku Klux Klan but said publicly that she was not afraid of them.

Baker worked with the NAACP. Her reputation as a crusader grew to such an extent that the NAACP had Sunday 20 May 1951 declared Josephine Baker Day. She was presented with life membership of the NAACP by Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Ralph Bunche. The honor she was paid spurred her to further her crusading efforts with the "Save Willie McGee" rally after he was convicted of the 1948 beating death of a furniture shop owner in Trenton, New Jersey. As Josephine became increasingly regarded as controversial, many blacks began to shun her, fearing that her reputation would hurt their cause.

In 1963, she spoke at the March on Washington at the side of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Baker was the only official female speaker. While wearing her Free French uniform emblazoned with her medal of the Légion d'honneur, she introduced the "Negro Women for Civil Rights." Rosa Parks and Daisy Bates were among those she acknowledged, and both gave brief speeches.
After King's assassination, his widow Coretta Scott King approached Baker in the Netherlands to ask if she would take her husband's place as leader of the American Civil Rights Movement. After many days of thinking it over, Baker declined, saying her children were "too young to lose their mother"
Her family life was also pretty incredible. During Baker's work with the Civil Rights Movement, she began adopting children, forming a family she often referred to as "The Rainbow Tribe". Josephine wanted to prove that "children of different ethnicities and religions could still be brothers." She often took the children with her cross-country, and when they were at Château des Milandes, she arranged tours so visitors could walk the grounds and see how natural and happy the children in "The Rainbow Tribe" were.

Baker was back on stage at the Olympia in Paris in 1968, in Belgrade in 1973, at Carnegie Hall in 1973, at the Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium in 1974, and at the Gala du Cirque in Paris in 1974. On 8 April 1975, Baker starred in a retrospective revue at the Bobino in Paris, Joséphine à Bobino 1975, celebrating her 50 years in show business. The revue, financed notably by Prince Rainier, Princess Grace, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, opened to rave reviews. Demand for seating was such that fold-out chairs had to be added to accommodate spectators. The opening night audience included Sophia Loren, Mick Jagger, Shirley Bassey, Diana Ross, and Liza Minnelli.

Four days later, Baker was found lying peacefully in her bed surrounded by newspapers with glowing reviews of her performance. She was in a coma after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage. She was taken to Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, where she died, aged 68, on 12 April 1975.  She received a full Roman Catholic funeral which was held at L'Église de la Madeleine. The only American-born woman to receive full French military honors at her funeral, Baker's funeral was the occasion of a huge procession. After a family service at Saint-Charles Church in Monte Carlo, Baker was interred at Monaco's Cimetière de Monaco.

Having read the full story of Josephine Bakers life, I had to conclude that just listing her as one of the great singers of the 20th century would be a total travesty. Her bravery, determination and her fighting spirit are something way beyond that. Her role in the French resistance, her struggles, at great cost to fight racism in the USA and her compassion mark her out as a truly extraordinary woman. Perhaps the greatest of the 20th Century. Many women excelled in a single field, but from such humble begininings, to achieve so much, I cannot thing of anyone who more deserves the title.