Friday, 31 August 2018

The Friday Joke 31/8/2018

Vinnie was just arrested for murder and was sitting in jail.

His mom called and said,"Vinnie, your lawyer just called and said he has good news and bad news."

Vinnie said,  "OK, give me the bad news."

Mom,  "Well, your lawyer says your blood is all over the crime scene, and it doesn't look good. You are down for Murder one and that means the death penalty in Texas"

Vinnie,  "Oh no!  Well what is the good news?"

 Mom, "Good news is your lawyer told me his cat has recovered from its vasectomy"

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Death - The final frontier

Talking is the key to dealing with bereavement
I have some bad news for you (or maybe, if you don't like me good news). I am going to die. The only thing I am not sure about is when. Maybe it will be today, maybe tomorrow. Maybe it will be in fifty years time. As someone living with cancer, but a non aggressive and controlled cancer, my sell by date is probably a little bit nearer than a few of my peers, but I am not greatly troubled by this.

Death is perhaps the biggest taboo subject in ourt society. If you get a phonecall from your best friend, your mum or your dad and they say "I've got some very bad news, I have cancer and I've been told its terminal and I only have a month to live", very few of us know what to say. Even if we've been worrying or thinking about this for a long time. I've been thinking about this for a while. What is the correct response? Most of us probably struggle to put anything coherent together. We may mumble "that's awful, I'm so sorry".

One of my biggest bugbears with ourt system of education is that it gives us no education at all in how to deal with such difficult moments. My sister is a hospice nurse. She's seen hundreds of people passing on this news. A few years ago, following a situation where a friend told me he had terminal cancer and I couldn't say anything, I asked her advice. Her response was absolutely brilliant. It amazed me that I'd never really thought about it. She explained that just about everyone finds it difficult to tell friends and family bad news. They may not have come to terms with it themselves. They may be scared and feeling very vulnerable. She said that she would say something along the lines of "I am here for you, whatever I can do to help just ask me". She advised me that she thought saying "There must be something they can do" or words to that ilk don't help. What people need is love and support.

The first consideration relaly should be to make sure that people get their affairs in order whilst they still can. From a practical point of view, this could mean making sure that they have their will in place. One of the biggest problems friends and family can have is actually working out what is in the estate. Putting together a file with details of all insurance policies, bank accounts, share certificates, email account passwords etc is worth doing.

The next thing to consider and this is a very difficult thing to get one's head around, is to ensure that friends and family are engaged to offer the maximum support. I sometimes think that it is actually harder for the partners to deal with than the person who is going through the transition from life to death. They need as much support as possible. Sometimes this may be in the middle of the night, sometimes it may be when they are at the shops. Make sure that they know they can call you at any time. Be there. Be prepared to drop everything and make time. If your working or life commitments won't allow this, then work with friends and family and have a rota so that there is always someone around.

There is also the issue of faith. When my mother died, there was a bit of a discussion about this. My mum was a devout Roman Catholic. One of my siblings is quite anti religious. He wanted a  service with the minimum of a religious element. My Mum hadn't left any specific wishes. It was pretty clear to me that she wanted a traditional Catholic funeral (we'd been together in Lourdes the week before she died). It had never really occurred to me that this would be a contentious issue, but it was to a certain degree. I would suggest that everyone leaves instructions as to their wishes (even if it seems obvious). If it is clear what someone would want, then there is no scope for arguments when emotions are high.  One of the areas that I feel that members of faith communities have an advantage over people with no attachment to such groups is that churches, mosques etc have good support networks. I was talking to a Catholc priest about this. He told me that over 50% of his ministry was supporting people through illness, death and bereavement. He said that although this was the hardest part of his ministry, it was also the most fulfilling. If such networks exist, don't feel embarrassed to use them. If you are not a member of a community that has such support, then it is worth finding local secular bereavement groups etc. There are plenty of humanist ministers that preside over funeral services and can put you in touch with support groups.

Another issue that can be difficult in such circumstances are the issue of family squabbles. Sometimes siblings fall out and haven't spoken in years. If a parent dies this can make for a tricky situation. When my friend, who I mentioned above was dying, it brought me back into contact with another friend who I hadn't spoken to for sixteen years. As we are both mature adults, we immediately agreed to put our differences aside and are now friends again as a result. It isn't always that easy though. My advice would be to try and seek a degree of reconciliation before the person passes away. I know this isn't always possible.

Another issue which may be worth considering is the issue of the wake. My friend who passed away had a complicated personal life. He'd been with one partner for 25 years, but left her two years before he died in very bitter circumstances. His ex was very popular with all of his friends, his new partner was not known by most. I had only got to know her in the final weeks as she nursed him to his death. Both made it clear that they would be attending the funeral. Given the acrimony between both, we decided that the only solution was to have an alcohol free wake.  As both were explosive characters, it meant that things were less likely to get out of hand. As a result it passed off relatively well.

As our friend was skint, it fell upon us, his friends, to organise and pay for the funeral and wake. We found that if you have the service at 9am, it is cheaper. We also found that shopping around and stating "The first consideration is that it must be as cheap as possible" certainly focussed the funeral directors minds. Of course, for most people there are other considerations. One of the things to consider is that for some people, getting to a funeral can be difficult. If peopleare coming from all over the country, then a funeral at Mid day is more convenient. Travelling across London or around the M25 in rush hour is a chore. Speak to friends and relatives and find what is the most suitable time.

For more casual friends, the funeral is when you mentally wrap up the whole sad business. For close family, it is just the start of the process of bereavement. When the wake is over and everyone has gone home, the partner returns to an empty home and life will never be the same again. Check in on them. Make sure they are OK. It is better not to say "I'm just calling to see if you are OK", because people will invariably say they are. if you can, have a drink,  tea or coffee. If you can get people out of the house and into a different environment it can help. If you have an automated calendar or a diary, put a note in for yourself to remind you to get in touch.

One other thing that should be mentioned is that often people cope with bereavement by using drink or drugs to excess. For friends this can be worrying. Don't be judgemental about this. Generally people get over this stage, let them know that you are there to support them. If they are getting absolutely smashed, make sure they are safe. They are likley to know that it isn't doing them any good, but unless they have a better option to numb the pain, then they are not really very likely to be interested in changing their behaviour and will not take kindly to a lecture. If you need to talk to them, go for tea or coffee in the afternoon. They are less likely to be inebriated and more receptive to doing things.

Back in 2012, I wrote a blog on the subject of how to deal with watching someone die, called The Practical Guide to Watching Someone Die. The response to this has been extraordinary. It is the seventh most read blog on the site. Unlike most of the blogs on the site, the vast majority of the views are the result of organic searches. Once every two or three months, I receive an email from someone saying that it has really helped them and these have come from people all around the world.

A couple of these have suggested that the blog should be expanded and issued as a book. I am giving serious consideration to this. I am currently doing some reseach on the subject and there are many aspects of the what we go through that are seldom discussed. People feel very uncomfortable talking about mortality. If you have anything which you feel may be useful to include, either credited or uncredited please let me know. I was discussing this issue with some friends recently and one told me that they had not been aware of the blog when their mother died. They said that they read it retrospectively and were actually cross with me that I hadn't signposted it to them at the time. I could only point out that they hadn't actually told me their mum was dying. It seems that this is the biggest problem. We just don't want to discuss it. I hope that this starts some sort of conversation that helps a few people.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Your chance to tell the Leader of Barnet Council what you think of him!

The Leader of Barnet Council would like residents to offer their views at one of three Engage Barnet events being held in September.
Residents are being strongly encouraged to sign up now for one of the sessions online.
Councillor Richard Cornelius, the Leader of Barnet Council, will inform residents about the council’s priorities for the borough, which have been laid out in the blueprint for its 2019-2024 corporate plan. People will then be able to give their feedback and influence the future direction of the plan.
Councillor Richard Cornelius, Leader of Barnet Council, said: “I want to listen to the concerns of our residents and take them on-board. I want our residents to feel involved in the future direction of their borough. This will ensure that we can get a better deal for everyone who lives here.”
The first Engage Barnet event will be at the Sangam Centre, 210 Burnt Oak Broadway, Edgware, HA8 0APfrom 7-9pm on Tuesday 4 September. The second will be at The Bull Theatre, 68 High Street, Barnet, EN5 5SJfrom 7-9pm on Tuesday 11 September. The third will be at Clayton Crown Hotel, 142-152 Cricklewood Broadway, Cricklewood, NW2 3EDfrom 7-9pm on Wednesday 12 September.
Residents can also view the blueprint for the 2019-2024 corporate plan online at Engage Barnet, where they are invited to complete an online survey to give the council their feedback.

I am sure that if you think Richard has done a marvellous job running the council, he'd love you to come along and tell him! He's a friendly chap and is quite approachable. If however, you are not happy with the way the council has been run, the only way you can change this is to come along and let Richard know. I am sure if you regularly read this blog and the other excellent Barnet blogs, then you will doubtless be aware of a few issues to discuss with Richard. I am a big believer in public engagement. I am pleased that Richard is doing this when there is not an election looming, as I am rather hoping that this means he actually wants a genuine conversation. 

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Mill Hill Jazz Club needs your support

The Save London Music Campaign is working to support hard pressed London 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. Sadly it doesn't take much to upset the delicate balance of income and expenditure that promoters need to ensure the bills are paid and the music can continue.  Our campaign is rooted in local, grassroots music. A fine example of one such promoter is Valerie O'Donoghue, who has run the Mill Hill Jazz club for nearly a decade, taking over from founder Paul Amsterdam. Val has brought an amazing collection of the best Jazz acts to Mill Hill in North West London over the years.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

The Tweets of the week in the London Borough of Barnet - 26/08/2018

It's Sunday, it's a bank holiday weekend, so it's raining. What better way to spend it than reading the Tweets of the Week! We have a few crackers and a few conundrums!

Don't forget to follow any tweeters who tickle you fancy

1. We start with a conundrum. Great to see the Police conducting crime prevention exercises in Burnt Oak, but why are Barnet Council not participating, when Brent are? Especially as the station is in Barnet?

2. Many locals will doubtless be saddened to see the sorry fate of The Saprrowhawk pub. For many years a great venue for live music and weddings. Thanks to the Mill Hill Historical Society for the story of how it was named

3. This is a story we've covered. It seems to me like the whole thing is being blown out of all proportion. I would suggest that the schook would be sensible to simply forget about it and move on.

4. More great work from Colindales litter pickers

5. A lovely picture of Edgware here from General Nostalgia

6. Another great tweet from Samuel Levy, our local wildlife tweet of the week. I often pass Samuel on my walks with the mutts in the Totteridge valley. Should really say hello!

7.Did you know that Windsor Open Space is actually in Finchley.

8. Who needs Hollywood when you have Cricklewood?

9. Some great sights from around and about in Mill Hill

10. What do musicians eat for breakfast?

That's all folks

Saturday, 25 August 2018

Jeremy Corbyn's nemesis is a Mill Hill Lad!

I was quite surprised to see the name of a good old Mill Hill lad on the front page of The Times as I ate my bowl of porridge this morning. I know a few rather famous people, mostly from the world of music (as I was saying to Sir Elton last night, I simply hate name droppers), but I wasn't expecting to see this particular acquaintance on the front page of the Times. Ok, I'll put you out of your misery, who is this person and why are they famous?

Well the answer is that it is none other than Richard Millett! Who you may ask? Well Richard is has the inauspicious title of being the last Conservative to be beaten by a Lib Dem in Mill Hill. Back in 2006, the Lib Dems were the main party in Mill Hill

Mill Hill Ward - 2006 results

Mill Hill (3 seats)
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Liberal Democrat Wayne Casey 2,108
Liberal Democrat Jeremy Davies 2,082
Conservative John Hart 1,964
Conservative Matthew Dreisin 1,923
Conservative Richard Millett 1,909
Liberal Democrat Sean Hooker 1,749
Labour Will Parnaby 600
Labour Agnes Macauley 587
Labour Daniel Mbala-Appoh 487
Green David Williams 472

I got to know Richard during the campaign. You may wonder what he's famous for? Jeremy Corbyn described him as not understanding history and having no sense of irony. The experience of local politics seemed to put Richard off. Being a rather sensible chap, he decided that blogging was far more fun. I am sure that he sees the irony that he gave up on local politics in Mill Hill, just as it got good for the Tories. I've got to confess that I rarely read Richards blog, I'm not overly fascinated by the issues he covers. I have a look from time to time, if there is a current issue and I want a local perspective and it is a useful resourse. It is mainly about Israel and issues associated with the London Jewish community. I suppose given the serious nature of the topic Richard has chosen, there may not be much scope for ironic wit, but I'd have to argue with Jeremy Corbyn's assertion that Richard doesn't understand history. I believe he's got acedemic qualifications in the subject. I would say that anyone who objectively has followed Richards blog would conclude that he is familiar with the historical issues. He may have formed a different conclusion than Jeremy Corbyn, but Richard is on top of his brief.

I am rather puzzled by Jeremy Corbyns comments about "Zionists lacking a sense of irony". Whilst I have never attended the "Zionist open mic comedy night" at the Dog and Duck so I can't really say whether it's full of ironic gems, I know plenty of people who identify themselves as Zionists or sympathetic to Zionism. I've never noticed a particular lack of ironic humour. What I will say is that I'd really expect better from Jeremy Corbyn than to use such broad brush descriptions. Richard Millett and his family have been in the UK for decades. Richard was born here and is part of our community. I find it quite objectionable to try and separate him off from the rest of us "Britishers". As the son of immigrant families, I would resist any labelling of UK born children of immigrant families as anything other than valued members of our society. I may not agree with everything Richard writes, but I will defend his right to be considered as British as the rest of us to the death. If Jeremy Corbyn aspires to be Prime Minister, he has to realise that such statements are divisive and irresponsible. This is demostrated by tweets from the BNP and the KKK in support.

Whether you think Richard Millett is right or wrong, a genius or a plonker, he's one of us, a local. He may have stood on the opposite side of the ballot box to me in the past, but I'm jolly glad he's there. As a fellow blogger who has been insulted by ignorant politicians, all I can say to Richard is "Well done mate, if you are winding them up this much, you must be doing something right". Richard confesses that he is worried about the situation in regards to his personal safety. The one thing I would say is that we'd all be far less safe without tireless bloggers with our "poisonous obsessions" (that was how Brian Coleman described me whilst Mayor).

One final observation. Richard is a Leeds United fan. I suspect that a good sense of irony is the only thing that has sustained him.

You can follow Richard Millett on Twitter buy clicking here.

The Saturday List #185 - The Top Ten Parks and public green spaces in NW7

So how well do you know Mill Hill? Don't cheat, can you name ten parks and green spaces in Mill Hill? I hadn't really thought about it, until I realised we'd walked our mutts over nine of them in the last week.  Here is a little list I've put together of the ten, with a few notes and reminiscenses. CAn you guess which one I didn't visit? (not too hard).

1. Mill Hill Park. I guess most Mill Hillians know this. My old football team, Old Hendonians played their home matches there for a few years and used the Hendon and Edgware Cricket Club clubhouse as our base. Sadly that got burned down, the council stopped looking after the pitches and we ended up at Cannons Park for my last couple of seasons. The Park has several distinct areas, a segregated kiddies park, a Pavillion and base for Mill Bowls club, Tennis courts, A small crazy golf putting range in poor repair, A cafe, a nature reserve (used to be a pitch and put course), some cricket and football pitches and the rather nice Bunns Lane annex, which is great for chilling and dog walking. There are a friends of Mill Hill Park group who work to improve the park.

Simmonds Mead circa 1950 (Pic by MHPS)
2. Simmonds Mead AKA Mill Hill Village Green. This is a small triangle of land between the A41, Lawrence Street and Uphill Road. It has a picturesque brook and some nice trees and flower beds. There have been sporadic events held on the site. I think most Mill Hillians love the site, but never really spend any time on it. Back in the 1960's the stream had a lilly pond with goldfish, which I used to love. Sadly that is long gone. In 2007 it was officially designated the Mill Hill Village Green.

3. Lyndhurst Park. This is on the Mill Hill/Burnt Oak border, next to the disused rail line between Mill Hill and Edgware. It has a small play area and is used by residents of the Deansbrook estate mainly. The railway arch under thr bridge was a popular spot for glue sniffers and teenage pot smokers in the late 1970's, which resulted in the Council bricking it up. It is quite a pretty park.

4. Woodcroft Park. This is by the Junction where Bunns Lane turns into Grahame Park Way. About half way down, on the Mill Hill/Burnt Oak border, it becomes Blundell Park. The Mill Hill section has a football pitch and a nature reserve, planted by the the councilto mark the Millenium. Parents of babies born in the year 2000 were invited to a planting. There is a Hornbeam tree planted by us for our son Matthew growing, it is now quite a fine specimen!

5. Bittacy Hill Park. This is located between Bittacy Hill and Bittacy Rise and is well used by people from the Mill Hill East area. There is a decent childrens play area, tennis courts and it is a well kept park. I'm not that familiar with the park as it's not really in my part of Mill Hill.

6. Arrendene Open Space. A favourite with dog walkers and also used by various people jogging, riding mountain bikes and riding horses, which sometimes causes a touch of conflict. The trees have been colonised by many green parakeets, which can regularly be both seen and heard. The spot is also popular for various people who enjoy late night liaisons in Mill Hill. Unlike some of the other areas these activities are largely nocturnal (possibly due to the large groups of slobbering hounds which frequent the park during daylight hours).
Picture courtesy of
7. Scratchwoods Open Space. This has a rather nice Shisha lounge, is well frequented in the summer by family groups having picnics and barbeques (currently banned due to the drought), teenagers holding illicit raves, teenagers practicing trail bike riding, dog owners who have shy or problematical dogs (as it is less busy than other open spaces) and men seeking encounters to brighten their lives up. The front area by the A1 is where the Shisha Lounge and families congregate. The woodlands to the back are where the other activities largely take place, although there are always a few chaps parked up staring out of their windscreens. There is a more or less dried up pond in the middle and a seemingly ever growing number of burnt out scooters and motor bikes. There is a massive littering problem and the park often gets closed for Iranian festivals as you are not allowed to enjoy yourself in Barnet (Iranians familes view Scratchwoods as their park of choice for festivities).

8. Moat Mount Open Space. Moat Mount is just across the A1 from Scrtchwoods. The council shut the carpark to deter the type of activities which occur at Scratchwoods and are viewed in some quarters as anti social. It has certainly deterred me from walking the dogs there. There is a lovely pond with large carp in. There are extensive woodlands and an outdoor centre offering camping, archery and other outdoor activities.

9. Darlands Lake nature reserve. Sadly Darlands Lake is now Darlands swamp, being a mudpit. it is a beautiful area between Burtonhole Lane and The Totteridge Valley. Folly Brook runs through. Until the early 1960's this was a boating lake. According to the London Ecology Unit's Nature Conservation in Barnet, published in 1997, Darland's Lake was one of seven sites identified by Barnet Council as meeting the criteria for designation as a Local Nature Reserve, and it is the only one of the seven which the Council has not designated. As we walk the reserve walk regularly, it is upsetting to see the neglect.

10. Copthall Nature reserve. Formed of the old Mill Hill East to Edgware railway and the Copthall Old Common, it is popular with walkers and enthusiats of disused railway infrastructure. There are regular railway walks and it has been listed as one of Londons top walks by the Londonist.

Click here for more info on parks and open spaces in the London Borough of Barnet.

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Mill Hill School and the hypocrisy of the press

Imagine my surprise to get a message from a mate in Australia telling me that Mill Hill is the number one news story in Adelaide! It seems the Aussies are rather tickled by the huge "scandal" that has blown up after a rapper hired Mill Hill School to make a pop video.  It seems that the Head of the school has resigned following the backlash following the release of the video.

What is all the fuss about? Well here is the video.

I rather enjoyed it. I always enjoy videos shot around Mill Hill, I've made a few myself. As you may have expected, the faux outrage was lead by the Daily Mail. There headline announced
"Top private school is forced to apologise after allowing rapper Stefflon Don to film sexual and drug-filled music video in its grounds" The article continues "The video storyline is about a new girl arriving in school. Stefflon Don’s character wins over classmates after playing in a football match where she swears at an opponent she suspects of diving."

It also quoted Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said: ‘The message being sent by this video popularises everything which good schools should be against – drug-taking, swearing, and overt sexuality. These are all things which schools should be trying to guide pupils away from, not promoting them. Parents who are paying the fees for their children to go there will be appalled'. I was intrigued who this guardian of educational standards was. What is the Campaign for Real Education? I had a look at their website. I was amused to see that on the front page there was a basic typo. I do think that such organisations that lecture others, should at least do a bit of checking of their own websites. The link to their summer 2018 newsletter says Summer 2019!

 I clicked through and I was saddened to see the sort of lazy rehashing of half truths and opinions presented as facts.  There is a long article about Drill music. Here is just a snatch of their rather intellectually lazy rant

In the form of ‘drill’ the purpose of the music is gang-related. Often it is generated by a desire to challenge or threaten rival groups. It has its roots in the gangland and murder culture of Chicago but, as UK drill, is now firmly rooted in our cities, especially London.
Highly discordant and alarming the sound of ‘drill’ is the sound of innercity boys and it is getting ever louder!  This is payback time for alienated and the marginalised young males, for the under-educated and the politically-uncorrected outlaws of our society. Drill has become their theme music.
Putting into action boasts of violence expressed in drill has become expected behaviour for its adherents. The father of one ‘drill’ musician’s murder victim described the music as having ‘a demonic mindset’.
It is almost impossible knowing where to start, but lets have a go. Firstly, as to Drill music getting even louder, the height of earbusting decibels is nothing to do with Drill. It would be heavy rock and metal bands with Manowar holding the record with 139 decibels. The Rock genre was also often accused of having Satanic or demonic overtones. There are many Satanic top tens for artists and bands and Drill music does not feature in any.  The article talks of Drill being the payback time for alienated and marginalised young males. To me it is rather imbecilic to see Drill as anything other than a symptom of the dysfunctional nature of our society. It is of course awful that some Drill artists are using their music to incite people into violence. I believe that in such cases, we have laws that already cover this. If you signpost someone for violence, the you really should get a visit from the law.

Oddly the article also objects to the fact that Rapper Dizzee Rascal's lyrics have been used in the A Level syllabus. As Rascal is not a Drill artist, I found this comment slightly strange.

‘Drill’ is an adaptation of so-called ‘rap music’ that already has a place in the music teaching of many schools. Indeed, the lyrics of one notable rapartist, Dizzee Rascal, now appear on the A-Level English syllabus.

For the record, RAP stands for Rhythm and Poetry. I would have thought that any legitimate campaign for real education would be delighted that disaffected young men were getting into writing poetry. So can Rascal write decent poetry. Here is an extract from Space

Babylon's calling me, nobody's fooling me
I do not roll with the masses, but big up the Junglist massive
I am not timid and I am not passive, messing with me? You must be on some acid
Done with the racket, I will get erratic, all of my problems disappear like it's magic
It'll be tragic

It's not my style but it is pretty good. It is hard to read it without rapping as it's got an amazing natural rhythm. If you are going to criticise an artist or poet, at least do your homework.

Having trawled the CRE's website I'm not surprised that they are the first stop for the Daily Mail when trying to whip up some hysteria. They object to the promotion of drug taking, swearing and overt sexuality. I must admit that having seen their comments before I watched the video I was a bit disappointed. As the Mail noted, the key incident in the video is a ladies football match with some excellent ball skills on display. Oddly the CRE do not mention that the video is promoting sport and healthy lifestyles. The swearing is in the context of one of the players cheating. As someone who has played football all my life, it may not surprise you to know I've heard the odd swear word uttered when a player has been suspected of cheating. The storyboard is that a new girl arrives at the school and is being bullied. She is a strong character and fights back, stands up for herself and wins over new friends. I don't think that is a bad message to send. The drug use, sexually provocative posing and swearing is all rather comic.

I don't know if it is because I've got daughters around the same age, but the sexual content is not what I'd consider to be particularly exciting, it was more like teenage girls showing off with each other. The video ends with a scene in a bedroom of a few teenage girls passing around what is presumably meant to be a spliff. On my regular walks around Mill Hill and its parks and green spaces, I have regularly seen small groups of Mill Hill School pupils drinking, smoking and even having crafty spliffs. Whilst some work themselves into a froth over such videos, I simply see it as a reflection of our society. Should schools rent themselves out to feature in videos etc? I don't see why not. If it generates a few quid, then what is the harm. It is absolutely clear that the school should not want to associate its brand with drug taking etc, but they should simply say "We rented the site and were not properly informed of the content. We do not condone drug use and we will be tightening up the criteria for hiring the school in future". In a sane world that should be the end of the matter.

If the Campaign for Real Education have nothing better to do than act as some sort of cultural police, deciding what Genre of music is ok for the nation and what should appear in videos, then I doubt that there is much need for a campaign for real education. I don't actually know what a real education is. Did I get one? I've no idea. I can read, write and add up numbers. My kids can also do that, probably a lot better than I can. Did they get a real education? My youngest son just got his A Level grades. He did his GCSE's at Finchley Catholic High School and his A levels at Woodhouse College. As far as I can see he had an excellent education. I personally would actively encourage young people to write music, to RAP, to play instruments and to make videos. Should swearing and taking drugs be a part of this. I think that swearing is OK in context. I have records by artists as diverse as The Sex Pistols and The Steve Miller band that have swearing on them. As for drug taking, in the context of RAP and Drill videos, I think it is just a fact of life that this will be portrayed. If you want to see s film with some fairly hardcore sexual activity and drug taking, watch Cocksucker Blues, a documentary about the Rolling Stones.  Maybe I'm just too old and world weary, but I cannot get worked up over a video that is really just a bunch of kids trying to look a bit naughty.

In fact the only thing which really annoys me is the hypocrisy of the Daily Mail, who rail against such videos, whilst staunchly defending a government that has chopped Police budgets, abolished youth programs and lost control of a generation of young people from deprived backgrounds. Artists mirror society. I doubt too many people will remember this video by Stefflon Don in a decades time, apart from a few kids at Mill Hill School who will probably be successful merchant bankers then and will snigger over it as they tell there friends about their experiences at a boarding school.


Monday, 20 August 2018

Planning for the future of our local High Street - How to transform Mill Hill Broadway

Image result for Mill HilL Broadway Mill Hill
The Broadway
Mill Hill Broadway has always been a central part of my life. As a small child, there were four shops I loved. These were Callis's bike shop (on the site that is now M&S), Kentfields Toy Store (now a Barber), Woolworths (Now Icelands) and H.A Blunt and Sons (AKA The Model Shop and now Cosways). There were three butchers, three greengrocers and two fishmongers. Times have changed a bit, I suspect that they are going to change a whole lot more in the next ten years. Will our High Streets be recognisable? Is there even a future for the small High street? Is it worth fighting for?

First of all lets consider why High streets change. Generally the properties are owned by Landlords. They want to make as much money as possible from their assets. If Cosways Estate Agents will pay a higher rent than the model shop, then any sane businessman would be quite happy to see them take over the lease. As a Landlord of commercial properties, I fully understand that the first priority is to get a return on your investment. Tenants sign leases for periods often between five and twenty years with rent reviews built in. If property prices in an area double in that time, then the rental values will follow suit. If you are renting a shop in Mill Hill Broadway for £50,000 a year and making a profit of £50,000 and you get a rent review which doubles your rent, overnight your business is making nothing. On top of that there have been big rises in business rates for many High St businesses. The government has not recognised that a) Thriving High Streets are good for the nation and b) Most of the businesses in them are currently struggling. It is clear to anyone with any knowledge of retailing (I run a shop as one of my businesses), that the goverment needs to overhall the way it taxes business, both small and large. The percentage of tax that the countries largest retailer, Amazon pays in relation to independent High Street businesses is obscenely unfair. Small businesses do not want special treatment, but asking for a level playing field is not unreasonable. Not only can Amazon use their huge buying power to leverage massive bulk discounts, they pay miniscule taxes on what they sell. Sadly very few of us would want to pay a higher price because we would like to retain our High Street stores.

One byproduct of the rise of the internet retailers is the huge proliferation of delivery van on our streets. I'd be interested in comparing the carbon footprint of a pound of sausages bought from Cooksleys (our local butcher in the Broadway) with one ordered from an on line retailer. There are many aspects of the move to online retailing which are detriminetal to our quality of life and pollution and traffic are certainly things that should be taken into consideration when working out a more equitable taxation policy. This may even encourage the likes of Amazon to consider cycle couriers as a first choice in urban areas. I was speaking to a friend who works in civil engineering who told me that there has been a marked increase in wear and tear on local roads in recent years. As delivery vans and lorries are significantly heavier than private cars, could the boom in online deliveries be contributing to the pothole epidemic we're seeing? If it is, then this is in effect another hidden subsidy that taxpayers are giving on line retailers.

There is little doubt that many of us like buying goods online. For many things, it is the easiest and most sensible way. For me, as a record collector, it has meant that albums I spent years scouring the second hand vinyl stores of London for, have now been easily and conveneiently been bought from dealers in the USA etc. I can't rememeber the last time we bought a kettle or toaster from a shop. For shops to survive selling such items, they have to have an amazing story to tell in this day and age. There is fantastic kitchenware shop in West Hampstead, if they were in Mill Hill, I would have bought many of the items in the window, but as we only go past it on a night out, sadly I've never actually set foot inside. But this type of niche shop to me is the future for High Street retailing. I suspect that to survive, you have to convince people to buy items they didn't know they want when they left the house.

A good example of this are Gerard's butchers in Daws Lane. They sell the most amazing Chorizo sausages. I wasn't even aware of the existence of such delicious treats when I first saw them in the shop. They also do some amazing mustards and pickles. This has caused some friction between my wife and myself, as I insist on buying them in the shop (as I believe the shop deserves rewarding for introducing me to such delights), she insists on buying the on line (as they are cheaper). My arguments that we wouldn't know of them if Gerard wasn't there falls on deaf ears and meets with a response of  the look given to an unfortunate imbecile. But Gerard has a loyal band of customers who do value his services.

Image result for Mill Hill wines Mill Hill
Mill Hill Wines - Regular Tastings
When Matthew Offord was first standing as MP for Hendon, he told a local resident in Mill Hill that he wanted the Broadway to be the type of High Street that an independent cheesemonger would want to open up. Although this lead to much mirth (not least from me), I actually totally agree with Matthew. I would love to see such a shop and I think that it would thrive, if run properly. Mill Hill wines in an example of such a model. They have an amazing selection of products (all there to tempt the impusle buyer). They have regular tastings. They have expert knowledge. I have developed a love of fine wines, very much thanks to them. I think that what the High Street really needs is a  "food quarter", If Matthew Offords cheese shop was next to Mill Hill wines, with Gerards or Cooksleys butcher from Daws Lane, Elias Fish and the organic greengrocers from Mill Hill East roundabout were all in a row next to each other, with some sort of loyalty card system, I think you'd have a very viable and thriving Mill Hill food quarter. I'd also love to see a high class delicatesant, a top quality baker and a health food shop present. The new store next to Costa has an amazing range of fruit and veg as well as a whole range of middle eastern and european foods. The trouble is that there is no attempt to form a "centre of gravity" in the Broadway for the food retailers. It is my belief that until such retailers start working together, they will be fighting with one hand tied behind their backs. I believe that both Cooksleys and Gerards butchers could thrive in the same parade as they are both excellent and would provide a strong attraction to locals who are seeking quality foods.

The next thing to consider is the restaurant offering of Mill Hill. Given the high turnover of restaurants in the Broadway, we again should have a look at what might be done to make this work better. The very best will always just work. Look at The Good Earth. It has been there for decades and is always busy. As for the newcomers, Bobs seem to have cracked the burger and beer niche pretty well. As a long term resident, the message is that if you want to succeed in Mill Hill, you have to be very good at your niche. Last year, an independent Italian restaurant opened in the Broadway. I assumed they would rake it in. They failed, as they were completely clueless as to how to run a restaurant. Perhaps their biggest sin was not to have a proper wine list. I'd love to see such establishments thrive, but they have to be well run. I'd also like to see the restaurants working with the food sector, so that they say "Wines selected by Mill HillWines, meat provided by Gerards/Cooksley, Fish by Elias". I love food and drink and if I have an excellent cut of steak, I might want to cook it myself the next day. What amuses me is that the restaurants in Mill Hill sometimes see each other as the enemy. The opposite is true. The more good restaurants you have in a High St, the more of a destination it becomes. When the Broadway had two Indian restaurants, we ate far more curries. I love the Mill Hill Tandoori, but it was nice to also have the option of the excellent cooking of Romel at the Day of The Raj. Variety was the spice of life. I'd love to see the restaurants get together to operate some sort of joint loyalty scheme and do co-marketing to get people to come to Mill Hill. I do however think we need two or three more top class restaurants to really make that work.

As for the cafe bar end of the market. There was much gnashing of teeth about Cafe Nero opening in certain quarters. There was a cry of "not another coffee bar". I was a little disappointed with this. Cafe Nero are a very different proposition to Costa. I think both can thrive. I'm not a coffee drinker, but the rest of my family are.  A bit of choice is a good thing and it will up the game of the existing businesses. Given the trends in High Streets and retail, I think town centres need to embrace the cafe culture, it really is here for the foreseeable future. They are good for the High Street, they make people appreciate that it is worth spending time on them. The Broadway has a thriving cafe culture. When I was kid, there was really no such thing.

The next element we see in our High Streets are the charity shops. The Broadway is seeing a new one opening soon. The British Heart foundation are opening in the recently vacated Halifax bank site. Again there was much nashing of teeth, but any reading of the runes shows that charity shops are one aspect of the High Street retail that is more or less immune to the likes of Amazon. We all have junk we want to get rid of and there is an army of people who want to rummage around for bargains. Arguments that there are too many such establishments are simply a denial of the realities of 21st century. The challenge should not be how to rid the High Street of Charity shops, but how to make sure that they are a positive addition. This means that there should be design rules, ensuring they blend in and strict rules about leaving bags of donations outside, forbidding the practice. Charity shops have tax exemptions as well. This means that they are a far less risky proposition for Landlords. I would like to see these rules changed so that other small retailers and start ups get similar deals.

Then there are the nail bars and hair dressers. Every time a new nail bar opens in the Broadway, there is a chorus of "oh no, not another one". Then you notice that they are full all the time. The coffee shops of Mill Hill are often filled with well presented ladies, having a pre or post beauty treatment coffee, so there is a very valid argument to be made that these are good for the High Street. As you can't buy a haircut or a nail job on Amazon, I suspect they are there to stay. Again the challenge is to make them a little more in keeping with the ambience that says "This is a great High Street".

Image result for Rockman Mill Hill
Next up we have the niche non food retailers. I will give a massive shout out to two of them in Mill Hill. Firstly Gary at Rockman Jewellers in the Broadway. If like me, you are a hopeless romantic (hopeless in as much as I always forget to get the wife a present for her birthday and Xmas), Gary is a saviour. He is a shining example of a great retailer. He knows his customers, he gives great advice and he supplies a product that you simply can't gauge on a picture on the internet. Such great retailers will survive, I have no doubt of that. Then there is Raj at Kilworth Audio. He does high end audio visual gear. We always buy our tellies and turntables from him. He is a proper retailer, adapts with the times and gives great service. Such firms will survive. As a community though, we do need to make sure to tell our frinds that such great businesses are there and that they need our custom.

Image result for A&Y Locksmiths Mill Hill
A&Y Locksmiths
Another side of the non food retail business are the locksmiths and grocers. Locksmiths are pretty much Internet proof. When you need a new key, you have to use them. Mill Hill has an excellent locksmith. They have a whole host of other ironmongery products and also do cheap shoe repairs. Such businesses that hae skills are the real key to a town centre, yet get little recognition in any discussion. Then we have the retailers like the "pound shop". There is a debate about the unsightly display of goods on the pavement. I'm not a fan of unsightly encroachment onto the pavement, but given the current retail climate, I think we have to cut such businesses a bit of slack. In the long term, we need to ensure that new businesses coming onto the Broadway have rules that stop any further proliferation of street clutter.

Another contentious area are the bookmakers that crop up on our High Streets. As these businesses are hugely cash generative, they are a favourite with landlords. I really don't know of anyone who welcomes the opening of new ones. I would like to see them zoned out of the busier areas of the Broadway and other High Streets, possibly with a local limit on the number of them. I have an old fashioned view of their activities and believe they siphon money away from other businesses that add more. For me, bookies are one business that I'd definately say yes when asked if I'd prefer to see an empty shop. I would not ban them completely, but better zoning and limits would make a huge improvement to our High Streets.

A very thorny issue is the issue of banks. I have had countless rather pointless discussions with people who don't run businesses about the flight of banks from the High Street. For people in 9-5 PAYE jobs, they seem like anachronistic dinosaurs. To people like me who run businesses dealing with cash, they are an essential High Street resource. Barclays are the only big four bank left in Mill Hill and have a constant queue.  If you operate a business, having to go to Edgware to pay in money is a huge overhead. I think that the big banks have completely mismanaged their branch networks. The way forward would have been for outlets to be shared resources, with a banking function. What I would say is that if your bank leaves your High Street, leave your bank for one that has remained. Vote with your wallet.

Finally there is the pub. Mill Hill has the Bridge, which is a rather niche operation. It is my regular watering hole and if you want a pint of Carlsberg on a Thursday night with a couple of mates after five a side footie, that you can walk home from it is great. If ever I am going to have any extra marital relationships, I'd conduct them in the Bridge, as it is the one place my wife would not come looking for me with the rolling pin. The Broadway desperately needs another pub (not a replacement pub), if it is to thrive. I'd love to open one a few doors down from Cannons Fish and Chip shop. Generally, they make you wait 10-15 minutes for your take away, so a pub for a crafty pint next door would work extremely well. A pub where I could take my wife without her objecting would be lovely. Somewhere for a quick drink before or after a meal with friends. I'd love somewhere that you could listen to music without jumping on a bus. Not a punk rock venue (great though that would be), just pleasant singer/songwriters and jazz trios etc. I'd like fresh food, nothing fancy, things like good quality sandwiches, burgers and steaks. Going back to the food quarter, it would be a great showcase for Matthew Offords cheese shop.

Finally on the general subject of attracting business to the Broadway. We need a more sympathetic parking regime. Short visits (20 mins or less) should get free parking. Thameslink should work with local retailers to help reinvigourate the Broadway. This could be done with joint promotions, money off meal vouchers for season ticket holders (God knows they deserve it) and a more "Mill Hill feel" about the station with Murals and artwork with local themes. TFL should also consider such schemes in relation to the bus network in Mill Hill. There should also be measures to make the Broadway and surrounding roads more cycle friendly (bike docks on the Broadways), segregated safe cycle spaces where feasable.

 So to summerise, I'd like to see the following written into any area plan for Mill Hill Broadway (or any other High Street).

1. Phasing out of cluttering street displays.
2. Zoning for food quarters and removal of bookies etc (as tenants vacate premises)
3. Stricter rules on signage with display standards
4. Loyalty schemes and joint promotion for town centres.
5. Tax incentives for innovation and start ups ( a points system for business rates, where social advantageous enterprises pay far lower rates than business that are not beneficial)
6. Fairer taxes in relation to online retailers
7. A more cohesive and local orienation for transport providers
8. Measures to make the Broadway more cycle friendly

What is tragic is that several Town centres in the London Borough of Barnet have received grants in the millions for regeneration. Most of this has been completely wasted, when a bit of thought and planning could have delivered regeneration at virtually zero cost.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Tweets of the week in the London Borough of Barnet 19/8/2018

So here it is again. The local roundup through the eyes of our local Tweeters

Don't forget to follow any who tickle your fancy

1. First up, lets start with the solving of the mystery of the performing seals at Apex Corner, courtesy of the Mill Hill Historical Society

2. Did I ever tell you that Tom Robinson's drummer used to Jam with us in Mill Hill back in the day. I was reminded of this when I saw this post. I used to organise benefit gigs for the ANL at Harwood Hall in Mill Hill

3. Our favourite Rugby teams season started with a friendly yesterday. Well done lads!

4. Dramatic scenes on the Broadway on Friday as a van caught fire

5. Great pics from the Finchley Horticulturalist!

6. I can't find the words to adequately describe my feelings about this

7. We support the amazing work of our fantastic local litter pickers

8.This is well worth checking out

9. It really is criminal that there are houses empty and rotting as people are sleeping rough

10.Want a nice dance studio in Mill Hill

That's all folks