Monday 29 April 2019

Environment Monday - Counting the dead cats

The law of unintended consequences. In 1994 I got a cat, he was a lovely short haired British blue called Norman. I named him after the Chingford Skinhead Norman Tebbit, which upset many of my friends on the left who thought it was not a suitable name for a cat. He was rather lucky to have joined the family in 1994 as this coincided with the period of Labour/Lib Dem power in Barnet. You may wonder why this benefitted a moggy? Well almost the first act of the council was to install road humps in Millway (my road). By the time Norman was old enough and smart enough to become a user of the road, the rather strategically placed hump outside our house had been installed. Not that anyone noticed at the time, but there was a resurgence of the cat population in Millway. Cats in Mill Hill have few predators (psychopaths and foxes being the only ones of note) and smart cats can negotiate slow moving traffic. Norman lived a charmed existence. He died of a heart attack in 2004, around the time the local Tories pulled the humps out.

I've been delivering leaflets recently in Millway and I noticed, or rather I didn't notice any moggies at all. I spoke to a couple of neighbours who used to have them, but the story is the same "They just get run over the first time they cross the road". You see Millway is a ratrun from the Broadway to The A41 at Apex Corner. Sadly a large proportion of the people who take advantage of this are what I lovingly like to call dickheads. Millway is .0.65 of a mile long. Prior to the removal of the road humps, the average speed of cars travelling was around 25mph. I would guess that when there is no oncoming traffic, it is now 50mph, which means that at quiet times cars are covering the distance in 46.8 seconds, instead of 93.6 seconds. At this speed a cat has approx 2 seconds to get out of the way a of a speeding car it sees 50 yards away, wheras it has 4 seconds if cars are travelling at 25mph. The stopping time of a car travelling at 25 mph. At 25mph the stopping distance of a car is approx 17 metres. At 50mph it is 53 Metres which is approx the length of 13 cars.

An adult human can see above cars and so has a chance, but a cat doesn't. In a road such as Millway, with ambient noise from the Motorway, it has no chance at all.

Maybe that doesn't bother you. I'm rather partial to moggies, but since the humps went, we have dogs, which stay in the house and the garden. It isn't the end of the world for me, apart from one thing. My son is now 18. He was born in the year 2000 and is a fine lad, studying physics at Manchester University. We go to football together and most of the time get on rather well. When he was 2, back in 2002, the last year of the Lab/Lib Dem administration, I did a very silly thing. I was bringing some shopping in from the car , leaving the front door open and he ran out to meet me. The car was parked on the far side of the road. He ran out straight in front of a car. Fortunately for me, the car had slowed to around 15mph for the hump outside the house, saw him and no harm was done.  I know for a fact that if the same scenario happened today, there would be a dead two year old child. Anyone who is a parent will know that is your worst fear. Losing a child is bad enough, but imagine if you were me and a moment's carelessness meant it was your fault?

Personally I believe that people, especially small children  (and cats) should be able to cross the road safely on suburban side streets. It may sound like I am trying to score party political points. I am not, I just want safe roads for the residents of Barnet.  I don't think road safety should be a political issue at all. I find it shameful that it is.

To me, the issue of the environment is one which is holistic. The same people who want to drive at ridiculous speeds on small roads are the ones who buy cars to impress rather than for their fuel efficiency. They are the ones who object to low emission zones where it affects their gas guzzlers, hypocritically stating that it is not them they are worried about but local businesses with old vans. I like cars, I am not anti driver. I just want people to be responsible and if they can't (which they clearly can't), be made to.

Sunday 28 April 2019

The Tweets of the week in the London Borough of Barnet - 28/4/2019

This weeks selection of the best tweets from around the Borough.

Don't forget to follow anyone who tickles your fancy

1. This is not only a great tweet, it has a fascinating thread leading off from it

2. This looks like it may be rather a lot of fun

3. Regular readers of the Barnet Eye will know we love a good list. We like this one

4. We support the work of the local litter pickers. Local people making a difference to our community

5. Some rather nice pictures of High Barnet Station

6. Excellent historical tweet from one of our regulars!

7. Love this, anyone know the exact location?

8. This deserves a shout out

9. Here's a date for your diary, if you lurve Jazz!

10. Some very interesting sights in Mill Hill this week

That's all folks

Saturday 27 April 2019

The Saturday List #215 - Ten Sports you can participate in in Mill Hill

If you've put on a few pounds over the winter and now, as the weather is brightening up fancy a new regime, there are a whole stack of sports that you can participate in.  I am endebted to Richard Wilkinson for pulling this list together on his fantastic Mill Hill directory site. Check it out at

If you are interested in any of these, just click their name below to visit their website. I was quite surprised to see how many different sports you can participate in locally. This blog has a strong affiliation with a few of them, especially Mill Hill Rugby club who are our sports club of the year and we are delighted that they have been promoted! Rugby is for everyone, and we love the mixed ability Rugby scheme that the club are running in association with the Saracens Sports Foundation and Project Rugby. We are truly blessed to have such a wide choice of sports locally and such a great bunch of coaches.

1. Mill Hill Rugby Club - Our local Rugby club and Barnet Eye Sports club of the year
2. Mill Hill Village Cricket Club - Our Local Cricket club
3. Mill Hill Village Football Club - Our local Football Club
4. Mill Hill Bowling Club - Our local Bowls Club
5. St Kiernans GFC - Our local Gaelic Football Club
6. Barnet Copthall Swimming Club -Our local Elite Swimming Club
7. Powerleague Mill Hill - Local Five a Side football pitches
8. Barnet Shaftesbury Harriers - Elite Athletic club
9. New Stars Lacrosse - Lacrosse club
10. Boxr Gym - Boxing and Fitness training
Sadly there is one local sports club that is under threat. This is not because it isn't well loved or well used, it is because the council has decided to rebuild the site without a diving pool, which threatens to end up to 50 different activities on the Copthall site. Please click through and sign this petition. I know all about the great work they do. My daughter was a member of the diving club and I saw the great work that the coaches and staff do. We need such facilities, it keeps our young people happy and healthy.


Friday 26 April 2019

The Friday Joke 26/4/2019 - The Penny Pinching MP

Did you hear the one about the Tory MP who turned up for his local Conservative Party Associations meeting to select a candidate for the GLA elections and was told he couldn't vote because he hadn't paid his party subs and wasn't technically currently a member of the party!

Second best laugh I had all week

Thursday 25 April 2019

Why there is no point moaning about Barnet Council cuts

Regular readers will know that I have stopped writing blogs about Barnet Council. You may be wondering why I am writing this blog? Well the reason is that this is not about Barnet Council. I am continually asked that why, after ten years of writing almost daily blogs about the shenanigans at Barnet Council, I suddenly stopped. I have documented many of the reasons, but ultimately the sad fact of the matter is that we would have to have cuts to services whether Labour, The Lib Dems, UKIP, The Tories or the Monster raving Loony party were in charge. The reason for this is nothing to do with the intentions of the parties. The Tories have done many stupid things, such as the One Barnet outsourcing with Capita, abolishing proper checking of pothole repairs, withdrawing freedom passes illegally from disabled people etc. But the driver for all of these is not down to Richard Cornelius and his merry men (and the odd token woman). Much as people have ranted about the inhumanity and crassness of the Richard, he has one hand tied behind his back.

The driver for the cuts is the slashing of funding for local government by the Tory government. Back in the period 2009-12 there was a case for cuts, as the international credit crunch had severely damaged public finances. But since 2012, the position has markedly improved. Central government even had a budget surplus recently. The government seems to fail to understand that allowing roads to crumble, elderly people to have to endure poor care,  state schools to be unable to keep the best  teachers, etc, is not a nice to have. It is the mark of a sane, humane and rational society.

The people of Barnet have proven very adept at protesting at the cuts. We have put the failures of outsourcing on the national agenda. When journalists are writing about outsourcing failures, the bloggers of Barnet are invariably their first call. I can't remember the last time I read an article about the failure of outsourcing that failed to mention Capita and Barnet. But if Capita went tomorrow, the funding crisis in Barnet would not disappear. My biggest fear is that the Tories would use it as an excuse to implement even more, deeper and harsher cuts. To some extent, the Tories policy in Barnet of zero rate Council tax rises has contributed. If they'd raised taxes 1% per annum since 2010, the pressures would be nowhere near as dire, but Labour were not proposing rises either, so I can't really believe that they can call the Tories out over this. Even if they'd done this, all that it would have done is taken the edge off the issues.

I was amused to re-read this article from 2018 - - which detailed how Barnet Council claimed it would fix all the Borough's potholes by 2020, having allocated £50 million to fix them in 2015. This is just one example of how Barnet play smoke and mirrors when dealing with a crisis. Back in 2012, the council produced the infamous Barnet Graph of doom. This was used to justify all manner of cuts (thanks to Mr Mustard for the Scribd file)

The bottom line to all of this is that the Barnet Tories have dug a huge hole, by not raising council tax. They have now proceeded to fall in it, which is why they have an acute budget crisis. But even without their incompetence, there would still be a crisis. What is needed is for the Government to loosen the purse strings and give councils more cash. If the councils weren't operating under the riduclous spending constraints that the government has imposed, then there would be far less pressure for bonkers schemes. Barnet Council is very much the victim of the way government funding for local authorities is calculated. It seems that for all manner of budgetary matters, Barnet does badly. There are only two possible solutions to this. The first is for the govt to give Barnet more cash and the other is for Barnet Council to dissolve itself and split into two Boroughs.

I would Split Edgware, Mill Hill, Hale, Colindale, Burnt Oak, West Hendon, Golders Green and Childs Hill into a separate Borough. I think that that the East and West of the Borough have few links. By and large, The West side use the Edgware Branch of the Northern Line and the BedPan section of the Thameslink line. In the East, they use the Barnet branch and the Great Northern services. People in Edgware consider Brent Cross and Golders green to be a ten minute hop on the tube, wheras they see the centre of Barnet as almost a foreign country. The West is far leafier and has more green space. The West is more industrialised and feels like more a part of London. I suspect that the West of the Borough would get a far better settlement from the Government and would politically be more inclined to deal with the issues in the West of the Borough. Local government should not be about building empires. It should be about delivering good services for local people and the closer to the population the leadership are, the better the decisions. Richard Cornelius is a Totteridge Councillor and his concerns are very different from residents in Grahame Park, West Hendon and Burnt Oak.

Local government in the Borough of Barnet is not working. The wealthy, leafy wards on the North East fringe of the Borough are not interested in a fair deal for those on the west, who's needs are completely different.


Wednesday 24 April 2019

The Wednesday Culture Round Up and The Wednesday Poem

Every Wednesday, we publish a poem and a round up of the forthcoming events in the Borough of Barnet. 
Here is this weeks selection
The Wednesday Poem

The bacon sandwich and the cup of tea

Just another five minutes, thats all I'll wait.

Nothings moving here, I'm going to be late.

Phone won't work, I what's going on?

The rumours are flying, There's been a bomb.

Up the stairs, To the Euston road.

The 30 bus, That'll lighten the load.

Get off, get off, A Copper shouts.

In a panic, We all get out. 

Down I walk, Past Russell Square.

A guy walks past, Debris in his hair.

Tottenham Court Road, I see a TV

There's been five bombs, They all missed me

There's a cafe, To welcome me

A bacon sandwich, and a cup of tea

It's the 7th July, 2005,

I thank the Lord I'm still alive.

Copyright 2006 Roger Tichborne

On 7th July 2005, four bombs devastated the London underground and a number 30 bus. I was on the number 30 bus behind the one that was blown up. I'd travelled to Town on a Thameslink train, for a meeting at Debenhams in Oxford Street. The bombers had travelled down on the same line from Luton, on an earlier train. I saw victims of the 30 bus staggering around, a policeman had thrown us off the bus shortly before. The tube network was shut, I had planned to get a Victoria line train from Kings Cross to Oxford Street. We were told that there'd been electricity supply problems. I decided to get a bus instead. As I was waiting for the bus, someone said there had been bombs. The mobile phone network was down. I still hadn't a clue what was going on when we were kicked off the bus. It was only when I got to Tottenham Court Road and saw a telly in Dixons window, with subtitles, that I realised what had happened. I decided to collect my thoughts. I went to a cafe, ordered a Bacon Sandwich and a cup of tea and watched the coverage on the telly. I penned the words above (apart from the last two lines, that I added on the anniversary). On reflection, getting a bacon sarnie and a cup of tea is a very British response to a crisis. 

Barnet Cultural Round Up

The carnage in Sri Lanka inspired me to dig it out and revisit it. My thoughts and prayers go out to all of the victims, the friends and families of all those affected and all of those, like me, who saw things we really shouldn't have to see and are struggling right now to make sense of it. 


Tuesday 23 April 2019

Are we drifting towards being a fascist state?

In the 1930's, the people of Spain, Italy and Germany did not suddenly wake up to find that a coup had suddenly replaced the previous government with a Fascist junta. The process was long, convoluted and the culmination of years of work, forged with international alliances and clever propaganda campaigns. The head of propaganda for the Nazi's was perhaps the first example of the blatant power of dodgy messages to corrupt the soul of a nation. Great Britain proved extraordinarily resistant to such ideologies and manipulations. The British have always been quite content to live and let live, so long as no one bothers us too much. I am not referring to our governments, who are extraordinarily warlike, but this is not really how the people or voters feel. We only support these adventures when the politicians convince us that the other lot are the embodiment of evil. That is why Tony Blair is so loathed. The British public twigged that he conned us.

I believe that one of the reasons the UK was so resistant to such messages was our pub culture. Working men would meet after work, have a few beers and debate the matters of the day over a ciggie and a pint.  People would talk and had a strong sense of community. I believe that the decline of the local pub is no accident. I think it is a deliberate policy of a state that really doesn't feel comfortable with us talking to each other and knowing our neighbours. Once we start talking to each other, we start to understand and recognise the agenda of those people who present the news to us. This was brought home to me two weeks ago when we had a family break in Lisbon. I did something I haven't done for at least a decade. I had a cigarette whilst I watched a band play in a bar. I don't smoke anymore and can't remember the last time I had a cigarette, but everyone else in the bar was smoking, so the need for some nicotine overwhelmed me. I haven't had another since, but it was gloriously liberating to be able to do it and not get the skunk eye from all around. I know all the health arguments, but we seem to have given up on the concept that adults can make their own choices, even if they are bad for the individual. What was also nice was the way we got chatting to the people sitting around us. I can't remember the last time that happened in London, but it certainly used to happen when I was a teenager.

As the week went by, I saw more and more contrasts between Portuguese society and Great Britain. Here, it seems that there is nothing we can do without petty rules. This was brought home in a most surprising way. As a Roman Catholic, I attend mass every week. In the newsletter for Palm Sunday, there was a seemingly endless list of rules for people attending Easter masses. It included "Don't turn up early and save seats for other people", "Don't use your mobile phone in church", "follow the directions of stewards at all times" and "when the church is full you won't be allowed in". I couldn't help think of the feeding of the 5,000. I wonder what health and safety announcements Jesus made? I don't recall the bit where he said "Only one bit of bread each, don't save any kippers for your granny and if you turn up late you can sod off".

On Sunday night, we went to the London International Ska Festival. The tube and the trains were a constant barrage of things you can't do, as we waited on an almost deserted platform at Mill Hill Broadway. There were two safety announcements. One was to tell a bloke at the end of the platform standing on his own, in the open air, breathing in fumes from the adjacent M1 motorway to stop smoking. The other was to stand away from the side of the platform to allow a train to pass. We have turned into a nation of snitches. Diane Abbott was taunted on Social media for having a cheeky slurp of a Mojito. I wonder how the right wing commentators would have dealt with it had it been Boris or Farage? Of course we know what the outrage from the left would be. Personally I couldn't give a stuff if people drink on the tube, so long as they don't annoy other people and they take their mess with them. Much of what is described as anti social behaviour is nothing of the sort (whilst often real anti social behaviour is completely ignored).

This whole rule based culture is to me a precursor for something far more dangerous. When you remove a persons right to make choices for a very debatable greater good, you have taken the first rung on the ladder to fascism. The limits on free speech today are far more rigorous than they've ever been in the UK. Footballers and Rugby players are pilloried and dropped for expressing archaic and outdated views of sexuality. I do not agree with what has been said, but I worry that by stifling debate, people who hold such views will simply not state them publicly, whilst still being bigots. A refrain I hear more and more regularly in pubs and clubs is that "you can't say anything these days". Generally the views that people who say this hold are pretty offensive, but does that mean we shouldn't be allowed to hear them? If you read the bible and many other Holy books they are full of statements that Rugby players can't repeat in public. If we prevent public debate of such views, my concern is that they go unchallenged. I remember years ago, there was a huge furore about Nick Griffin, leader of the BNP appearing on BBC question time. As it turned out, he was exposed for the fool and buffoon he really was. The statements he made, that he expected to resonate with the British public, were met with derision. Far from giving him a platform to increase the profile of the BNP, they became laughing stock. The same should be true for ill informed young Rugby players. The argument of bigots always fall when subjected to scrutiny. For me, the way to deal with such bigotry is not to silence people. It is to give them the opportunity to debate their opinions and see what the effects of such views are.

This was explained to me many years ago by a Gay CofE vicar. Like the young Rugby players, I had been brought up with a very black and white view of life. A former guitarist of the False Dots was in a relationship with "John the Vicar". After one rehearsal, John turned up for a few beers. I asked him if he felt that his sexuality was compatible with his job.  John explained that argument that God doesn't want people to engage in same sex relationships does not take account of the fact that God makes some people attracted to people of the same sex. John explained that a compassionate God would not  wish to subject anyone to a life of misery and loneliness. Any committed Christian must surely believe that God doesn't make mistakes, so when God sets someones sexual orientation, clearly that has been done as part of Gods plan. John then explained all of the things he'd done in the last week for the community and asked if I felt he was doing Gods will. He'd comforted widows and people dying of cancer, he'd baptised a baby, he'd conducted a funeral and he'd distributed food to homeless people. Did I feel he was Christian enough? Did I feel that God would approve? When challenged with a polite,  reasoned and logical argument. That is how we should deal with young men with silly views.

I I may be alone in this, but I actually find the hollow apologies, drafted by PR people to protect the brand and assets of a rugby club, to be far more offensive than the fact that a young man is a bit immature and ill informed. I simply don't believe that young rugby players making silly statements on social media have the life experience to give an informed view, and rather than being pilloried, people should understand that young people sometimes have ill informed views and be a little less judgemental. I fear there is a wider narrative in all of this. Social media is sadly a very powerful medium for bullying. I know of at least one young person who has committed suicide following a social media hate campaign. We have to be mindful of this when we criticise young people who have been stupid.

Of course I have sympathy with anyone offended by the pronouncements of ill informed people they don't know on social media feeds they probably weren't following, but I find many things in the The Sun far more dangerous and offensive. Personally I find it impossible to understand how the domestic news media can be controlled by people who are not British and who have  vested interest in simply keeping the UK as a place they can make pots of money and take it off shore as soon as humanly possible.

These media moguls control papers that have a very xenophobic and populist agenda and champions the likes of Nigel Farage, a man who has failed in every attempt to get elected to Parliament. They demonise immigrants and refugees, promote parties that follow nationalist agendas and pillory anyone who they perceive as fair game that disagrees with their agenda. When Nigel Farage has a crafty ciggie and a pint it's fine. When Diane Abbot slurps a Mojito it isn't.

When you put all of this together, it is a pretty scary picture. Our society is being weaned away from being allowed to make personal decisions. We are being forced to think in an ever more conformist way. Social media has become both corrosive and liberating. It gives a voice to anyone, but it also opens the door to mob rule. Our media is controlled by people who have no vested interest in the future of the UK and who support some rather extreme people on the fringes of the political scene. I am getting more and more concerned that we are drifting towards a fascist state. We are not there at the moment, but the more I look at it, the more I see the dots starting to be joined up.

Sunday 21 April 2019

The Tweets of the Week in the London Borough of Barnet - 21/04/2019

It's a special Sunday, so lets see what the tweeters of Barnet have been saying this week.

Don't forget to follow any who tickle your fancy.

1. Lets start with some nice Mill Hill Memories

2. This Tweet sums up what I feel that Easter should be about in 2019, great work.

3. Sometimes I find a brilliant Twitter feed whilst doing this and think "How have I not found this before?" This is one such feed

4. Here is a date for your diary

5. Here's a proper Easter Tweet. The Hendon walk of witness

6. We love a good poster here!

7. Don't forget that even though tomorrow is a Bank Holiday, Barnet's traffic wardens will still be ticketing you if you park on yellow lines

8. Are you a resident of the New Colindale area? If you are, here's a date for your diary

9. Fancy a bit of Jazz?

10. This weekend has seen the amazing London International Ska Festival, which is being sponsored by our local studios

Have a great, sunshine filled, happy holiday!

Saturday 20 April 2019

The Saturday List #214 - My Top Ten Ska Tunes

This weekend we have the London International Ska Festival.I am immensely proud that mu company, Mill Hill Music Complex are the sponsors.

Ska is one of my favourite genre's of music and it is probably the most fun of all genres to watch live. I am lucky to have met many legends of the UK and International Ska and Reggae scene through my work. Many of these artists could have a top ten of their own and on another day, I may have chosen any one of a number of their other hits, the choice from Toots and The Specials being especially hard. Some have special memories, such as Long Shot Kick De Bucket, which not too many other fans of the Pioneers would probably put in the list from the selection on offer. Some are just part of the landscape of our musical heritage such as Liquidator, which is a football anthem. Some such as Dat are just a bit bonkers and alwats make me smile.

Anyway, hereere is my personal Top Ten Ska playlist. I hope you enjoy it!

If you are planning a party and you want to get everyone up on the dance floor, this would be a good place to start

Friday 19 April 2019

The Good Friday Blog - Extinction rebellion and the crucifiction

There are only a few days of the year where I blog about faith and morality. Good Friday is one of those days. I have been watching with interest the coverage of the extinction rebellion protests in Central London. In the Catholic faith, this week is known as Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter Sunday). It starts with Palm Sunday, where according to the legend Jesus made a triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. Today marks the point in the story where he was executed by the state for heresy and purportedly fermenting rebellion. Whatever your faith, there are many interesting aspects t to the story, most of which Christian theologians have little or no interest in.

The first is the way that the "powers that be" reacted to what they perceived as a threat to their power. It is pretty clear that they had no interest at all in the message that was being spread, the issue was that they wanted to crush a popular figure spreading a message that resonated by whatever means they could. They did not have mass media, internet and mobile phones. What they did have was a network of people who supported the status quo. This was effectively mobilised to build a case that would persuade the Roman administrators to allow them to get rid of the threat.

The second thing that interest me is what happened afterwards. The powers that be assumed that in the act of the brutal execution of Jesus, the whole thing would go away. Whether you are Christian, or an atheist, it is pretty clear that this failed miserably. You do not have to believe in the resurrection to accept that the message that Jesus tried to spread has hung around long after the people who put him to death shuffled off this mortal coil. You don't have to believe that Jesus rose from the dead to see that many aspects of his message still have a huge impact on society today. This week we saw the tragic fire at Notre Dam cathedral. Even some of the most committed atheists I know have been heartbroken by the fire and there is no one I know who doesn't want to see a Phoenix rise from those ashes. Most of us accept that forgiveness and reconciliation are better in the long run than hatred and revenge. You don't have to believe in an afterlife to accept that the ten commandments (or the last six at least) are a relatively sensible basic code for living if you want a happy and uncomplicated life.

Just for the record the last six are

5. Respect your father and mother.
6. You must not commit murder.
7. You must not commit adultery.
8. You must not steal.
9. You must not give false evidence against your neighbour.
10. You must not be envious of your neighbour's goods. You shall not be envious of his house nor his wife, nor anything that belongs to your neighbour.

Reading the bible with a critical eye will highlight all manner of contradictions and for many rational people this undermines its credibility. For the fundamentalists who take the bible as the "word of God" and view the whole book as containing literal facts, there are all manner of convoluted arguments to justify these. It is pretty clear to me that books were written by people who, acting in good faith, documented what they saw as best they could. But that is a world of difference between someone doing their best chronicling difficult events and it actually being an inarguable fact.

Which brings us to the extinction rebellion protests and the parallels. There is little (rational) argument that the protesters are completely wrong or that there aren't major issues facing the planet and its population. We all know there is an issue. Most of us do not know whether the protesters are right that we have six years to fix it or whether the timescale is more manageable at say 50 years. Some argue that technology will fix the problems. Some  claim that in the west, the falling birthrate of indigenous populations will make the problems go away (ignoring the fact that those passengers on the Planet Earth journey, who are travelling third class will always seek to join us).

Just as the powers that be in Jerusalem see their comfy lifestyles being threatened, the same is happening with the protesters. Politicians continually speak of the "disruption to ordinary people". The press and media highlight celebrities who lead luxury lifestyles hypocritically jumping on the bandwagon. Whilst no protesters will be crucified, the calls for "firm action" build daily. The police have thus far stated that as the protesters are courteous and well behaved, they have no justification for violence. It all rather reminds me of the biblical account of Pilate's dealings with Jesus. It states that Pilate could find no wrongdoing, but ultimately gave in to a baying crowd to take "firm action".

The great and good of this country would do well to consider the last three commandments. Firstly "You must not steal". There are many forms of theft, but perhaps the worst and most dangerous is stealing from future generations. If we don't take some sort of action, if we don't address the plastic crisis and get serious about global warming, we could very well be stealing our children and our grandchildrens future. Then there is the "You must not give false evidence about your neighbour". In short don't tell porkies. Sadly none of us believe a word the politicians tell us anymore. I've no idea what the true situation regarding climate change is. I've read quite a lot of articles in scientific publications over a period of 40 years. If the worst of these had been true when I first got interested, planet Earth would already be a dead dustbowl. But every day that goes by, the evidence gets stronger and the models of what we are doing get more accurate. Arguments that could be made ten years ago are now completely debunked and new challenges have been identified. People like David Attenborough have done amazing work highlighting the risks of plastics, but we still flush wetwipes down our toilets and buy spuds in all manner of plastic boxes. Will we ever learn?

Then there is the "You must not be envious of your neighbours goods". Doesn't this just sum up consumerist society. You are perfectly happy with your Ford Cortina until the bloke up the road gets a new 7 series BMW. All of a sudden, you feel like you are a second class citizen and you want one. We are all so obsessed with our social status and keeping up with the Jones's that we have lost sight of what being happy is.

Some believe that rules such as the Ten Commandments were constructed to control us. It seems to me that in many ways they are there to help us be happy. If you follow the prohibitions, ultimately you are likely to live a happier life and society will function better. I am not advocating that anyone follows my path, you all have your own path and own choices, but if we don't learn the important lessons of history, then we risk making many painful mistakes.

For those powers that be that are choosing to besmirch the young people out protesting for their future, they should consider the biggest lesson of the Crucifixion. They did it to get rid of the "Jesus problem". It had the complete opposite effect. Both Christians and Muslims recognise Jesus as a huge figure in their traditions. between them, that is around half the worlds population. I would suggest that a far more sensible path for the powers that be would be to start taking serious action to address the issues that the protesters are highlighting. If they are putting forward arguments that are not scientifically supportable, call them out by all means, but do not try and shut down a serious attempt to fix the problems of planet earth by claiming that the protesters are making people's buses late.

Thursday 18 April 2019

WIll VAR kill football?

Who would be a football fan? I support Manchester City FC. This morning I awoke feeling deflated and down. I don't want to talk to anyone. Yesterday I drove to the Etihad Stadium and saw one of the best matches of football ever seen in the competition. I've supported City since I was five and been to hundreds of matches over the years. I've seen relegations, promotions, cup victories and losses, Championships and complete debacles. I've seen dodgy decisions. You have to take it on the chin.

The reason City went out last night was not "because of VAR". It was because at key moments over two games they didn't play well enough. In the first game, Sergio Aguero missed a penalty and last night they didn't defend well enough. Having seen all of the decisions over two legs, I am not entirely sure VAR has ensured justice was done. I am sure that any Spurs fan will be thinking VAR is amazing, but what I witnessed last night in the stadium has convinced me that VAR in its current form is simply not fit for purpose. 
There were two decisions referred to VAR. The first was Spurs decisive goal and the second was Strelings disallowed goal in the final minute. In both cases a goal is scored. For the first, the ball clearly hit a hand. City players appealed and many people in the crowd at the end we were at saw the ball strike the hand. Being at the game, I didn't see the replay. The VAR sign came up. The ref reviewed the footage and the goal was awarded. Many around us were disgusted. 

For the Stirling Goal, the stadium erupted, the Spurs players slumped to the floor, The City players went mad. After what seemed an eternity, the VAR sign came up. None of the Spurs players had reacted. The ref went over and disallowed the goal. As it was up the other end, no one had a clue what was going on. 

If I'd been at home, in the luxury of my front room, with a glass of beer, I'd have had a perfect view. I'd have known what was going on. As it was, I'd paid £75 for two tickets, spent £50 on half a tank of fuel, spent £16 on two beers and two pies (one for me and one for my son), the beers which couldn't be taken into the arena to watch the match. I'd taken half a day off work, and got home at 2.30am, having been on an exciting cross country drive, courtesy of the M1 closure. 

Until last night I'd been a staunch supporter of VAR. But having experienced it in the stadium, it is clear to me that it has a massive impact on the whole dynamic of the game. Manchester City were in full flight when Stirlings goal was ruled out. In the old world, had a Linesman raised the flag, it would have been done and dusted and City would have had three minutes to get on and score (or not). As it was, the delay and the emotion of the way the decision was made sucked all of the life out of the last few minutes. The drama was gone. 

Football is not a game that is enhanced by lengthy pauses. The fan experience is terrible in the stadium. I only found out why Stirlings goal was disallowed when we got in the car and put on 909. My gut feeling is that ultimately VAR will favour the clubs that play better football. There will be less shirt pulling in the box, which can only be a good thing and we won't see the debacle of the wrong player getting booked or sent off. But it has to engage with the fans and it has to be a quicker process.

The issue I have with VAR is that it disrupts the flow of the game. In the last three minutes of injury time, this means that the whole ebb and flow of the game is disrupted. This was always the argument against the concept. Does that mean that we should settle for bad decisions? I don't know what the answer is, but I do know that the current way the system works is unfair on the fans, who pay the money. I find the whole way fans are treated to be appalling. You can't take a beer in to your seat, so you have to neck it almost as soon as you've bought it at half time. You are excluded from knowing what is happening with VAR and it costs an arm and a leg. The experience of watching your team win a critical game in the stadium is ecstatic beyond belief, but the fans are the absolute bottom of the list in the priorities of the footballing authorities. The way VAR excludes those who pay most is just the latest example. Will VAR kill football? I am sure we'll all get used to it and in ten years it will work seamlessly. What I can say for certain is that it does nothing to make the game flow, which can only be bad.  It has taken years to get to the point where there is a degree of review and we get a system that is clearly seriously flawed.  There are three elements to football, the fans, the players and the authorities. With innovations such as VAR, do the authorities ever consult the fans and players? No of course not, they are only the people who pay the bills and make it the amazing spectacle that it is.

Wednesday 17 April 2019

Parenting - The four things that matter

As the father of three children who are all now technically adults, I can honestly say that the journey thus far has been a bit of a roller coaster. The highs have been amazing and the lows have been devastating. When your children pass exams, win trophies and are happy, there is an enormous sense of happiness. When you have hospital trips, failures and all of the other stresses of modern parenting, you feel like your head will explode.

Nothing in my education prepared me for fatherhood. My own father died eight years before my first sprog appeared. I am not sure what lessons he would have been able to have imparted, but I'd loved to have had him around for the journey. His idea of parenting and the modern view are totally different. He came from a generation and a culture steeped in violence, drink and war. The only time I ever really discussed parenting with him, he told me that his only job was to equip me to survive and have the mental and physical toughness to get by. I knew he loved me but once I'd passed the phase of being a child, this was never really expressed. Strangely the last time we actually met, we had the only real proper, pleasant conversation one to one as adults.

He confided that he'd come to respect me, having given up on me as a teenager. I was 24 at the time and had a job and a regular girlfriend and was doing something he thought was interesting. He'd also come to realise that my life in music was not only interesting, but I was quite good at what I was doing. He died suddenly, of an aneurysm, a couple of months later. I am eternally grateful of the fact we actually had time to become friends, after a long period of estrangement. In some ways he was even less well prepared than me to be a father. When he was interested in something, he was the best Dad in the world, but his wartime experiences had left him suffering with PTSD and he was liable to explode at any time. I only really understood this much later.

I have been thinking about what being a parent means, I think that in some ways his measure of being a good father, was pretty bang on, but in other ways not really fit for purpose in the year 2019. For me, there are actually four things that I think are four things that as a parent, you should always work to ensure

1. Your children should never cause harm to anyone else. This is the most important of all. The reason is that if they do then this will ultimately mean that they will fall foul of the other three. If you become aware that your child is a risk to other people, you have to do something about it. This could be carrying a knife, bullying or being part of a gang or it could manifest itself in other ways. Turning a blind eye will never end well. Addressing this may well damage your relationship with your child, but it may also mean that there is still a relationship in years to come. My advice is to be aware. I am lucky that this is not something I've had cause to be concerned over, to the best of my knowledge.

2. Your children should not cause harm to themselves. It is impossible to stop adults and teenagers doing things that you might feel are dangerous. So long as they are not endangering anyone else, I would say that your responsibility to to provide as safe a space as you can and always try and be a shoulder to cry on. It can be hard, don't be judgemental. It is something to some degree everyone I know with adult/teenage children has problems with and I think we all feel we've to some degree not done the best job we could.

3. Negativity is a poison in our society.  One of the biggest changes from my fathers generation is that we are all now massively analytical. We want a name for everything and reason for all behaviours. This often ends up in negativity. As we need labels for everything, it often means everything becomes a problem to be addressed. We confuse problems with challenges. We all have challenges and surmounting them is a good thing. If your children become engulfed in a negative cycle or with a group of negative or destructive friends, it will always be hard for them to be happy. It will also make it hard for them to get on and achieve anything. Negativity is never cured by negativity, so always try and stay positive and guide to wards positive outcomes and solutions.

4. Have faith in your children. Have some trust in them, you've not walked the same path and seen the same sights. Schools and society have changed massively over the last 20-30 years and the lessons you learned may not apply in the same way. Have some faith in your children and be prepared to learn from them, it is a two way thing.

It isn't easy, the bottom line is that if you don't talk, if you don't have difficult conversations sometime, then you are fighting with one hand behind your back. If you can talk to your children, then you have some sort of chance of being their when they need you.

Monday 15 April 2019

Environment Monday - Why I wouldn't touch an appartment on the Barratts NIMR development with a bargepole

NIMR view elevation
Todays Environment Monday, is focussing on family friendly housing, which should be the first priority of anyone involved in housing planning in the Borough of Barnet, first though, I want to explain my long association with  the site of one of Mill Hill's major schemes. Much of the discussions about solving the housing crisis in London is focused on the development of so called brownfield sites. One of the huge developments currently going up in Mill Hill at the moment is the development by Barratts at the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR)

Many people in Mill Hill were dismayed to see the building demolished. I was not one of them. I hated the place. It used to give me the creeps. Unlike most Mill Hill residents, I actually saw what went on within the place. When I was at school, I took a holiday job at the site back in 1978. My job? I was a lab porter. What did this mean? When I was told about the job, I thought it would be a really interesting and useful job. I was doing my A levels at Orange Hill School at the time (Physics, Biology and Maths), I had vague ideas about going to University at the time and maybe doing a degree in environmental sciences. I thought experience of working in a lab would help me. Sadly it had quite the opposite effect. I was assigned to work with two departments. The first was physiology and the second was parasitology. The experiences I had convinced me that music was a better career for someone with my gentle artistic temperament.

I went into the job holding the view that animal experimentation was a necessary evil. I still believe this to some extent.  The work being done in the parasitology department pretty much supported this view. They were working on treatments for schistosomaisis caused by Nile Liver flukes. This is a very nasty disease affecting tens of thousands of people in Africa. The disease is spread by snails and the parasite is then passed on to mammals through the water where the snails have laid their eggs. The labs in the parasitology department bred snails and would use these to extract fluke eggs to infect small rodents, to see if the treatment under development was effective. My role as a lab porter? The rodents would be infected, monitored and after a set period, euthenised and dissected to see whether the treatment had improved the condition of the liver of the rodent. Such science is done on a statistical basis. There is a control group that has no treatment and a group that has the treatment and all are controlled in such a way that the only variable is the treatment. My role in the process as a lab porter? I would collect the brown bags that the dead animals were left in after being dissected. I would take them to the incineration block and then throw them in the incinerator. I also had to put various implements in the washing machines. I didn't really see to much that worried me in this department and had no real qualms about the job. Although the liver flukes were dangerous, there were far more danagerous pathogens being worked on, such as green monkey fever. These had far more strict protocols for handling and disposal. I doubt they'd let a sixteen year old loose on them. 

The work in the physiology department was a bit different. They were working on a project to map the brain. This involved taking cats (rather like the moggy you have at home). They would be clamped into a device to hold them still. Once they were completely immobilised, the top of their skull would be cut off. I asked if they were in any way sedated. I was met with the look that an idiot gets when they ask the most stupid question imaginable. It was explained to me in words of one syllable that if you are measuring brain function, then anything that inhibits brain function would be rather silly. Once the cat was ready, a probe to detect electrical was placed in close proximity to the moggies exposed brain. The cat was then poked and prodded in various places, to see where the neural activity was occurring. As all this was going on the cats would drool and stare at you with absolute hatred. When we say cats are cruel to their prey, I have always felt, since this experience, that people really haven't got a clue what the meaning of the word is. After I'd been working for a week at the place, I started to have nightmares. I asked one of the researchers what the purpose of the experiments were. I was rather hoping to find out that it was to save humanity. The answer shocked me "I'm working on my doctorate". I then asked whether there was any practical use for the work. The answer was equally shocking "I am sure that once the work is completed plenty of studies will refer to it".  I realised that all of the purpose of the suffering of the poor moggies was highly speculative and unlike the liver fluke project, wasn't for a specific project. When the moggies had been prodded for a few hours, I would take the cats on their final journey to the incinerator. Sometimes the brown bags would twitch as we went down, as they hadn't been properly euthenised as they went (Ether was used). It was horrible.  I did the job for a couple of weeks and then quit.

I realised that the last thing I would ever want to do is work in anything that involved cruelty to animals. Whenever I heard vivisectionists and anti vivisectionists argue, I get really irritated. Both sides misrepresent the arguments. Those working on animals use the vital work of the scientists working on projects such as the liver fluke project to justify everything, from the speculative mapping of moggies brains, to cosmetics product development and research by tobacco companies to make tobacco products less harmful. The anti's ignore the fact that if your children have an incurable illness, any sane parent will sanction anything to save them. My view is that if a clear benefit can be demonstrated to the planet, then I would support experimentation, but if it is speculative or simply so people's lips can look more luscious, it can never be justified. 

For years after I worked at the NIMR, I could not walk past the place. On the odd occasion when I had to, if I smelled the incinerators burning the dead animals, I'd feel physically sick. When my children went to the adjacent St Vincents school, I'd often smell it and eventually got over the sense of panic. When I realised that Barratts were demolishing the building I was extremely happy, I hated the site of it and was pleased that this death camp for animals was going. Unlike many doe eyed locals, it was a place of disgust for me. 

But as the flats have gone up, I no longer feel quite the same. As I was walking to the Adam and Eve last week, a lorry emerged from the site and honked its horn. For some reason, this induced a mild panic attack (possibly caused by being unexpectedly startled on a nice walk). The site of the vehicle, caked in mud and aggressively driving down the Ridgeway seemed to me to exclaim that the site is a place of extremely bad karma. In China, buildings are valued for their Feng Shui (Of course,  for us westeners,  this is a purely personal thing) Unless the buyers are people who believe animals have spirits and the ghosts of ten thousand dead moggies will be haunting them, I doubt too many people will change their plans as a result of this blog. That isn't really the point I wanted to make at all. You may wonder what the point was?

Well I really wanted to talk about the way we do brownfield developments. I was out with friends at Granary Square on Saturday night. The whole area has been transformed into an excellent, people friendly space. If I was going to take anyone to show how urban regenertion can work, I'd take them to the St Pancras/Kings Cross area (preferably in a Tardis to show them the place in the 1980's as well). The thing is that the space is people friendly. I've looked long and hard at the plans Barratts have submitted for the site, which were approved by the Mayor of London. The site is almost unique in London. It is more or less equidistant from both Mill Hill East and Mill Hill Broadway stations, but both have extremely steep hills. It is perhaps the least cycle accessible site in London. It is extraordinarily well served for schools, although the Primary Schools of St Vincents RC and St Pauls CofE both have a faith requirement, Belmont is a fee paying prep school and Mill Hill is a fee paying public school. There are no shops within an easy walk with shopping (apart from Finchley Nurseries who sell some organic fruit and veg). In short, unless you are an Olympic standard cyclist, who's family are religious or loaded, and buy all your food from Ocado (other online services are available), you are going to be spending a lot of time in your car. The Ridgeway is already  gridlocked with the schools at opening/closing time and the 240 bus is packed. 

The point is that this is not a people friendly site for the vast majority of those who need a home in the Borough. Another similar site, completely unsuitable for families is currently under consideration by the Mayor for the Pentavia retail park, another brownfield site. In the case of Pentavia, again the access is appalling, there are no local primary schools reasonably accessible by foot, appalling road connections, issues with pollution and few local facilities for families. 

When the London County Council built the Watling Estate, they put a tube line in, libraries, schools, doctors surgeries, shops and parks. The homes had gardens and grassy areas for children to play. There even used to be a general hospital nearby. I am all for brownfield site developments, but whenever you read about such projects in Barnet, you never read about how they will be great places for families to live in. It is simply a numbers game. I live in Millway, NW7. I have a garden, I can walk to the bus and train station in five minutes, I can buy a pint of milk or a loaf or bread in the Broadway. Our nearest primary and secondary schools are within easy walking distance. The park is not much further, the doctors surgery and the dentists are around the corner. I don't think any of those things should be unusual for a family living in London. Whilst new build flats that will have children may not have gardens but they should have safe, communal play areas. 

So whilst being hounded by the ghosts of ten thousand dead moggies may be a major disincentive to me personally, the rational reason why I think these are bad developments is that they don't serve the people of our Borough. We need good quality homes for families, with good air quality, schools, shops and services within walking distance and should be designed with a view to building a sense of community. When we talk about social housing, we seem to forget what the word social means. According to the Oxford Online dictionary, it means " relating to activities in which you meet and spend time with other people and that happen during the time when you are not working". In Barnet, it seems to me that the current concept of social housing design is to keep people stuck in tiny flats miles from anything where they might interact with anyone else. The Barratts site states that there is a gym and a concierge services, this doesn't sound to me like a scheme attracting families with children, who should be the first priority in any scheme. I note with interest that the affordable housing section is located on and around the part of the  site of the old incinerator, that I've had so many nightmares about. Why does that not surprise me?

To summarise what I am trying to say, I am all for brownfield developments to fix our housing crisis, but they should be addressing the people who the crisis is affecting worst,ie  families requiring social housing. Clearly a site such as the NIMR couldn't simply be left to rot, the issues with access would not prevent a development, but the whole scheme should have been considered as a part of the Millbrook Park, IBSA development. Each of these massive building projects have been viewed as totally different proposals, but each affects the same schools, bus routes, dental surgeries and roads.

When a proposal is referred to the Mayor of London, currently the scope of the proposal is not widened to review other local schemes. This is crazy and it explains why these schemes are overloading local services. A referral to the Mayor should automatically mean a widening of the scope of the enquiry and all local schemes of note and transport infrastructure issues should be included. With this scheme, Millbrook Park and the IBSA, there will be nearly five thousand more homes in the area than there were in 2005. That is more homes than the Watling Estate. All of that to be served by Mill Hill East, the only single track section of any deep tube line, which has been cut to an off peak shuttle service. It is madness. If you don't agree, just walk down the Ridgeway from Hammers Lane to Bittacy Hill when the schools are opening and tell me I'm wrong. And that is before the buildings have gone up. 

So to sum up. The Mayor of London should look at more than his housing targets. He should be a champion for the people who will be living in the new homes. He should make sure that the children growing up on the site have all the facilities needed to have a great childhood and for parents to build the social network of friends and neighbours to support them.  In short, a large development should provide and environment in which people have a good quality of life. 

I finish with a video I made last year with my band The False Dots, recording for posterity the destruction of the NIMR building, if you are missing the gross monstrosity. Enjoy