Friday 31 January 2020

The Friday Joke - On for all of us pensioners!

Apologies to all of the younger readers,  but I thought this was rather funny, so felt impelled to share it. I would say ask your grandma, but if you weren't there, it probably isn't funny!

Hat tip to our twitter friend

Wednesday 29 January 2020

The Fall of Edgware - Time for action on the massive Edgware Railway Hotel fly tip - Do this now!

There has been huge interest in the film by Mark Amies and the blog we wrote detailing the issues. About the fall of Edgware  and the appalling state of the pub and the huge fly tip at the back, on the former metalworks. Marks film is the most watched video in the Borough of Barnet this week, with over 1,500 views in a couple of days. This is quite unprecedented for a locally produced film and shows the strength of feeling.

Now is the time for action. There have been hundreds of comments on Facebook and Twitter, but this means nothing. If you want to stop the destruction of Edgware then you need to take action. Several people have asked for a petition. There is no need for a petition, as there is something far more powerful, that ensures the Council take notice. That is to leave an objection on the planning application. There are currently 24. The time to do it is now and it is very easy. This is the text of the comment I left.
"This site was formerly an industrial site. The policies of both the Mayor of London and Barnet Council state that industrial sites should not be turned into car parks. The owner has deliberately allowed the site to become a rubbish dump to pressure the local community into accepting their plans. The council should issue a compulsory purchase order and use the space for the benefit of Barnet residents, rather than someone who clearly is unfit to manage such a space"
Put your own comment in the comment box, make sure you click the "Object" box and also select whether you are a member of the public or neighbour.

Click this link now to enter your objection. We need as many as possible to show the stength of local feeling. Barnet Council needs to be made aware that local people have had enough of this neglect.

When you have done that, share this with all of your friends and family who know about the pub and make sure they do. If you haven't seen Marks film yet, please watch this and share with all of your friends (click on this to play)

Thank you for your support

Monday 27 January 2020

The fall of Edgware and the demise of the Railway Hotel pub

Yesterday I got up a tad earlier than usual to visit Edgware to make a short video with Mark Amies, the BBC Radio London local historian, about the appalling state of the Railway Hotel, a Grade II listed building that has been left to go to rack and ruin for several years. What greeted us was truly appalling, but what was even more appalling was it emerged that what we were seeing wasn't just the demise of a much loved pub. What we are actually seeing is the fall of Edgware as we know it. Please watch the video. It was a rather rush job, but I felt it was important to get this made, while there is still something to fight for.

It has become clear that the issue isn't just the railway, it is becoming ever more clear that Edgware is next on the list for "Colindaleisation". If you wonder what this means, have a drive around Colindale. Ten years ago, this was just another sleepy part of the Borough. Now it has been transformed into a hellish visionn of a mini Manhattan, with all the soul drained out (apart from a few small bastion such as The Chandos Arms).

The first phase of this has started, with an application for a huge car park on the land behind the Railway. This has become a huge rubbish dump, as you can see in the film. You can read about this application by clicking here.

The area in red behind the pub car park is the location

As we looked at the plan, the question became clear. Why is a temporary 175 place car park required in Edgware? As we walked around and discussed what was going on, it became absolutely clear. Any major construction scheme requires a base and a substantial amount of parking for workers and a depot for deliveries. A cursory trawl through the council website reveals that this has started. A plan has been submitted for the adjacent plot. This states

Non-material amendments to planning permission reference 16/0112/FUL dated 13/01/2016 for 'Demolition of 120-124 Station Road and full planning permission for the rebuilding and extension of 102-120 Station Road to provide 1,705sqm retail floorspace (Use Class A1/A2) including a new frontage to Approach Road; redevelopment of rear car park for new buildings ranging in height from 3 to 17 storeys with podium level to provide 122 flats (Use Class C3) and a further 150sqm of new retail floorspace (Class A1/A2/A3) to Approach Road. The provision of car parking, landscaping and amenity areas and environmental improvements to Station Road and Approach Road, a pedestrian site access from Station Road and Approach Road and vehicular site access from Approach Road'.Amendments to include, roof handrails for safety reasons, balcony detailing, fire escape route, blocks C and D are relocated 225, away from the boundary, door and column omitted on the east elevation.
You can read all of the details here. This has been approved with  no objections and the local population seems totally unaware that plans for a new 17 floor tower is about to appear on the High Street. When I studied the plan, I realised that it was simply changes for a previous plan, also approved with five objections. It is clear to me that the community were not made properly aware of this application.

16/0112/FUL | Demolition of 120-124 Station Road and full planning permission for the rebuilding and extension of 102-120 Station Road to provide 1,705sqm retail floorspace (Use Class A1/A2) including a new frontage to Approach Road; redevelopment of rear car park for new buildings ranging in height from 3 to 17 storeys with podium level to provide 122 flats (Use Class C3) and a further 150sqm of new retail floorspace (Class A1/A2/A3) to Approach Road. The provision of car parking, landscaping and amenity areas and environmental improvements to Station Road and Approach Road, a pedestrian site access from Station Road and Approach Road and vehicular site access from Approach Road | 102-124 Station Road And Car Park To Rear Edgware Middlesex HA8 7BJ
The full details are listed here. Oddly three of the five comments are not shown. This is very much a Trojan horse development. Although there is already a tower on the site, this is a massive increase in size and scale, as this drawing shows.

What is clear is that this proposal was only the start of the process. The Railway is a key site in all of this. The site is worth millions of pounds but a Grade II listed building is a very inconvenient obstacle. Why else would the current owner have allowed it to deteriorate and have open windows, holes in the fence etc?

You may ask what are the 'Local Councillors' doing about all of this. The answer is that they are rather sadly doing nothing. They are not rallying the community. They are not explaining why a developer  wants a 'temporary car park'. They are not organising public meetings. why could this be? One of them, Sarah Wardle works as a 'planning consultant' has this expertise been used to the benefit of the local community who voted for her and pays her allowance, has her  Could it be because of their lack of local associations with the site and the history of Edgware? I don't know, but I do know that the Railway Hotel is loved by the local community and the total lack of action is completely bemusing.

A few words must be said about English Heritage and Historical England. Both have been made aware of the situation on numerous occasions, by many people. Mark Amies has campaigned non stop, but has received nothing but fob off communications saying Barnet Council are dealing with it. One of the reasons I make these films is to ensure there is a historical record of what has happened. This means that when local politicians tell porkies, we can hold them to account. We made this video a year ago on 7th Jan 2019.


These two videos, a year apart, show exactly what happens. What do you think the video and blog we put together in January 2021 will show? If I was a betting man, I'd say that it will show something very different indeed. I would also put my house on these planning applications not being the last major changes to the High Street in Edgware.

You may have your view on what we are seeing. I have mine. I believe we are witnessing the fall of Edgware as we know it. I honestly believe that unless people wake up, what we are seeing in Colindale will spread all the way up The Edgware Road, around the corner into Edgware. I don't think that this will be as part of a single grand scheme that we can unite against, but as a 1,000 small cuts, none of which benefit the local population and as small schemes, none of which will deliver any of the infrastructure needed to support such a change. Make no mistake, none of this is about providing social housing. This is about 'luxury flats' to make billions for developers.

Sunday 26 January 2020

The Tweets of the week in the London Borough of Barnet - 26/01/2020

Here is our pick of the best tweets from the London Borough of Barnet

1. Let's start in Burnt Oak with one of our favourite local twitter accounts taking us back to 1971

2. A great Finchley picture from Adam London Photo's

3. Did you know Bentley Motors started in Cricklewood? You do now!

4. Our local sporting legend tweet of the week

5. We support the hard work of our local litter pickers, working hard to clean up our communities

6. If you think that bin collections in Garden should be paid for out of your council tax, check this tweet out

7. The Mayor of Camden has been in Barnet doing one of my favourite walks and taking in a rather decent watering hole

8. This looks like fun!

9. A great education in the local literary scene

10. An amazing gig is being cooked up in Mill Hill!

That's all folks!

Saturday 25 January 2020

The Saturday List #249 - My ten favourite birds that you will see in Mill Hill

I'm not a birdwatcher, but I have a keen fascination with the birds that I see on my travels around Mill Hill and especially in my garden. When I was a child, my mother would feed the birds in the garden. She'd leave bread out and we'd see sparrows, starlings, blackbirds and if we were lucky thrushes. I was never too keen on the starlings, as they seemed a tad ugly and rather greedy, lacking the grace of the blackbirds and the charm of the sparrows. Sadly this all stopped one day when she saw a rat tucking into the scraps. We currently have a Robin that sits on the window sill and displays a great interest. My mother had an aversion to blue tits, that would peck the op off the milk and drink the cream in winter.

In the summer, the next door neighbour had a swifts nest under their gutters. I loved these birds with their amazing aerobatics and high speed manoeuvres. My Dad once told me that an Ace fighter pilot once told him that he used to study these birds and the birds of prey, to devise tactics to attack the Luftwaffe.

At some point in the 1970's the magpies moved in and we saw a massive decline in the number of songbirds in Mill Hill. I have always found Magpies fascinating, but my mother believed them to be the devil incarnate and used to insist we always said "Good morning Mr Magpie, hows your wife" to ward them off. A friend of mine, Spud Hudson, kept a pet crow. It would nick shiny trinkets from the neighbours and exchange them for scraps. Sadly his neighbours moggy extracted revenge.
When I was about nine, I made friends with a crow. I'd bring it out scraps of meat that it would eat from my hand. It would then do various tricks to entertain me, I realised that crows are probably the most intelligent animal on the planet. Again my mother caught me and was horrified.

A more recent visitor, one that I always feel a great admiration for, even though it has cost me hundreds of pounds, is the heron that decimates my pond.

 This is the most magnificent bird that you will see in Mill Hill. As it takes off, it is truly majestic. All of these have been spotted in the garden over the years.

1. Blackbirds.
2. Thrushes
3. Sparrows
4. Robins
5. Crows
6. Swifts
7. Magpies
8. Crows
9. Blue Tits
10. Herons

For some reason, I've never felt much affinity with pigeons and seagulls, which seem to be the majority of local avian life. I do rather like spotting the green parakeets that populate Arrendene, although as an invasive species I know they are not universally appreciated.

As regular readers will know, I regularly walk the Totteridge Valley via Hammers Lane and the Ridgeway. I strongly recommend this. There are many amazing birds you will see, but look out for geese, swans and ducks, on the ponds, Red Kites and other birds. If you want to learn more about the subject from someone who actually knows what they are talking about, I highly recommend Samuel Levy's amazing website. He has great footage of avian life in the Totteridge valley. Follow him on Twitter. Here is one of his videos from the Totteridge valley

Another local worth a look is Don Lyven, who is rather keen on sparrows.

Our local wildlife is a treasure to be enjoyed. That is why it is important to protect the green belt. It is not empty, it is teeming with life. Concrete car parks and power stations are not.

Friday 24 January 2020

Barnet Council need your help! We've offered our suggestions

Barnet Council need some help! How do I know? They tweeted it a few minutes ago.

As someone who has spent the last twelve years trying to help Barnet Council to improve their customer service. I have to say that I've failed miserably. When I started writing blogs about Barnet Council, they were rated as a five star authority. This was the highest rating that an authority could receive. The vast majority of services were highly rated and run by in house teams. But sadly, this was all to change. The Leader was Mike Freer (now MP for Finchley). He had a cunning plan. He believed that if you outsource everything, it gets delivered better and cheaper. I first learned of this in 2007, when they outsourced the Meals on Wheels service to Sodexho, a large multinational company, who put the lowest bid in. I'd not paid much attention to the Council before. Sadly for me, my mother relied on this service for her lunch. On the day of the new service, it didn't turn up. My mother lived independently and paid for the service. Due to various medical conditions, she needed regular meals, and this was a massive issue for her. Previously she'd known exactly what time the delivery would be made and would be ready for it. The stress caused by this was immense. I found out that the delivery round said that they would deliver 40 meals in two hours. This was simply impractical. Calls to councillors, letters to the press and my wife dropping in dinners got us through. But it was awful for the residents who relied on it and didn't have stroppy kids to make a fuss and a daughter in law down the road. I realised that there is more than a financial aspect to these cuts. If you didn't know why I feel so passionately about the subject, you do now. A year later, in early August 2008, my mother died. As I had become a vocal critic of Freer and his policies, he responded to the news of my mums death by publishing a comment on his blog about "Armchair critics" "cossetted by family money". I was appalled by this. When challenged, Freer told the editor of the Times that the comment was aimed at no one in particular.

What I didn't realise was that this told a story that we would see played out time and time again. The story was one that the Conservative administration had no respect for the views of local people and did not want to listen to what they wanted to say. Freers masterplan to outsource the council services became the "One Barnet" programme. Wheras previously the people who ran the services, answered the phones for the council and kept an eye on the finances were locals and had a vested interest  in doing the job properly (if they didn't they would suffer bad services and higher costs as well).

Under the previous Labour/Lib Dem administration, much work had been done to engage local people. The reason was that the administration believed that by involving local people, the council would be better able to deliver services. The flagship of this was the 'Local Area Forum'. These meetings were packed, with dozens of questions from often disgruntled residents. Councillors and officers had to face the music and often didn't enjoy this, however issues got raised and dealt with.

I started blogging for the Barnet Times in May 2008. This blog I wrote for the Times details just how engaged the public were. I have included an extract.

And on, by this time it was 7.45pm (meeting started at 6.30). We were only up to question 17 out of 38. Councillor Gordon was starting to look worried. Not only might he not be home for cocoa at 8.30pm, he may not be home for Rosh Hashana. Up stepped Mrs Cohen. Her question was 2 1/2 pages long and had points a through to i. Now I have to confess that yet again I couldn't hear what she was on about. Not only that, but the 2 1/2 pages of notes only give the faintest clue. It seems she's unhappy with some aspect of the council's policy regarding a neighbour carrying on business at a private address. That is only a small part of the story though. 
It seems much of the juicy detail was removed from the notes we got. Mrs Cohen was unhappy. After approx 20 minutes of her giving us the full text of her question, she noticed that Councillor Gordon was chatting away to Ian Caunce and completely ignoring her. Was she prepared to stand for this, no she wasn't she gave him a piece of her mind in no uncertain terms. Councillor Gordon responded that he'd listened to every word she'd said. Now either he possesses the hearing abilities of Superman or he's telling porkies, as she was completely inaudible apart from the odd "disgraceful" or "unacceptable". Anyway thoroughly chastised by his nemesis he tried to maintain focus. As to Councillor John Hart, for the entire meeting he had not uttered a word. As Mrs Cohen made sure we were all aware of her grievance I became fascinated with his demeanour.

I suspect that the good councillor is not actually a human after all. He has the aura of a Jedi Knight. He sits there stoically saying nothing, but seemingly fighting an ever more desperate battle to not cross to the dark side. He clearly realises that he could simply snuff Mrs Cohen out using "the force" but then he'd no longer be a good guy. If Mrs Cohen disappears and a black caped knight in a welding helmet strides through to the next council meeting we know that the dark side won. On Mrs Cohen ploughed. At some point she realised that Leslie Feldman, the planning officer wasn't paying attention either. In she went, verbal daggers swinging. Councillor Gordon tried to defend the honour of Ms Feldman, but was dispatched with a swift comment along the lines of "I've already dealt with you, little man, be quiet". On she went. It was clear that council officers had ignored her. It was clear she was unhappy. At this point, she noticed that the third council officer (sorry, didn't catch his name) was also not paying attention. "Look at me when I'm speaking to you" she bellowed. Councilor Gordon said "This is not the forum to raise this". Mrs Cohen yelled back "I am a resident, this is the residents forum, you have to listen to me. It's not your forum". Councillor Gordon slunk back. 

 I highlighted the second last sentence, because this was the key point. Mrs Cohen wanted the council to listen and she had attended as it was her forum. This all soon changed. The forums rules were amended so that questions had to be submitted well in advance and were limited. Now no one bothers with it at all. No more 38 questions and councillors missing their cocoa.

Residents also used to have the right to ask detailed questions at council meetings. Last year, the first act of Councillor Thomas on becoming the new leader was to pick up what Freer started. Questions at meetings had to be less than 100 words long and there were restrictions on the numbers that can be asked. I've given up going to Council meetings. What is the point? How can you get a sensible answer for a budget of thousands of pages in one question of 100 words? I feel that by playing along with this charade legitimises it. But the point I am making is that the council has wilfully cut itself off from the people. Moving out the staff who engage with the public to other parts of the country has resulted in their being no civic pride. Destroying the local forums has ensured that the likes of Mrs Cohen, who was not at all political, just a disgruntled resident, are ignored. For what? So Councillors and officers get and easy time. As for questions at meetings, councillors have made it abundantly clear that they are not interested in what residents have to say.

Where has this lead us? Now the council want to set up focus groups. This is to replace the honest, open engagement that used to exist. But this is a very different beast. It is not real engagement, where the council don't know and can't control the agenda. It is a slick PR exercise that will cost a fortune and deliver nothing.

Of course there is a simpler and cheaper solution. I tweeted  as much. Fellow blogger Mr Reasonable then spotted that the council actually see a bad telephony service as a way to save money.

You don't need a focus group, I have a simple plan

1) #KickOutCapita 
2) #StopGaggingResidents 
3) Revert to the pre 2010 format for local area forums.

You couldn't make it up. If you made it into a comedy sketch, people would claim that it was too unrealistic to be funny.

My band, the False Dots wrote and recorded a song to document how outsourcing is destroying public services. We made this video to mark the launch of the #KickOutCapita campaign. I think it sums it all up. Have a listen.

The Friday Joke - Terry Jones RIP special!

It's Friday so as is our tradition, we bring you the Friday joke to put you in the right mood for the weekend. As Terry Jones passed away this week, I felt it was only appropriate to commemorate his work. We all know the jokes, so watch this and smile.


Terry Jones RIP

Thursday 23 January 2020

Guest Blog - Where did that old photo come from? by Mark Amies

A great many of us enjoy looking at old photographs of the area we live in. It gives us the opportunity to see places either we can recall in our youth, or allow us the possibility of a bit of travel into a past we didn’t experience. Numerous Facebook groups and Twitter pages exist for us to revel in this past time. Some of us enjoy finding old images, and putting them up onto social media. It is a normal human desire to share things with others, and it can be a wonderful thing. For those with failing memories, it can spark the parts of the mind that retain their past experiences.
We are fortunate to live in a time where we are able to access huge numbers of old images, and then rapidly self-publish them to seemingly endless numbers of people across our local areas and the World, and it’s all free. Or is it? The majority of archive images go up onto social media platforms and blogs without any credit as to where they came from, and there are examples where individuals claim that the pictures are from ‘own collection’. Why is this important? Well, it is important for a great many reasons.
The most obvious reason why images should be credited is the legal status of copyright. In essence they are the property of someone else, and there are rights applied to their copying. The owner maybe the photographer who took the image, an agency that paid the photographer for the image, or the family of the person who took the photograph. Don’t be lulled into thinking that because a photo is ‘old’ that means it is exempt. Copyright can last for decades. Old images of areas may be owned by local authority archives or museums, and they will renew their copyright as time goes by.
The rapid arrival of electronic media has opened up a huge problem for the owners of images. In the more traditional world of publishing, books, magazines and newspapers have to adhere to the strict rules of image usage, pay for the rights to publish an image, and they have to credit where the image comes from. But with electronic self publishing and social media things have become much looser. A large majority of people assume images can be used without any permission or payment. 
So why I have got a bee in my bonnet about all this? Well, I have spent most of my working life in the world of imaging . I spent about ten years working for major photographic libraries and agencies, I have sold photographic goods and equipment to professional photographers and studios, and I have worked for a magazine publisher. Commercial image libraries make money from the sale of images to all forms of visual media. But there is more to their existence than selling pictures. They commission professional photographers to take pictures, and they manage and promote their work. In simple terms images are not free, and they should not be treated as such. I have recently finished putting together a book about London’s industrial heritage, and I have had to pay out several hundreds of pounds of my own money for the right to publish historical images, without which the book would have had no appeal. I was lucky that a number of images were permitted to be published without payment by their owners, but I had to ask them, explain what the book was about, credit them, and in many cases give them a copy of the book once it has been published.
So that has put into some context why using images without appreciating their value and ownership is something to be aware of. Now you are wondering why so many images are being used willy-nilly across Facebook and Twitter, and nothing happens. This is something that I have wondered too. However, just because image reproduction is not heavily monitored and enforced on these platforms, it does not mean the individual should not take some responsibility. All you need to do is credit the place where the image came from, or to say who took the photo. It’s not unreasonable. How would you feel if your photographs were used without acknowledgment? Worst still, imagine your living was earned from taking photographs or maintaining an image library, and you knew someone was doing this?
As a number of you will be aware, I started a Twitter account in the Spring of 2019, called NW London TimeMachine, where I post old images of North West London. I started it as a bit of fun, but incredibly it has picked up over one thousand followers. People like history, and they like to see images of the places they live in, as they were in the past. I do not make any money from the account, nor do I mean to. I do it because it is fun and people seem to enjoy it. However I do my very best to say where the images come from. There have been a number of occasions where there is no source name and as good as the image may be, I have left it, because I felt it wasn’t right to put it up, without a source name. More than anything it is just common courtesy to acknowledge where you found the image. I have often tagged the owner of the image, so that it is perfectly clear I acknowledge them. Two examples of this are the Francis Frith Collection and David Smith over at Memories (Hendon). Quite often these people will be happy that their images are being publicised, and potentially they could end up selling them as prints.  The aforementioned places add watermarks, in otherwords a logo or name will be added over the image to ensure no one can copy it easily.  I had to laugh when I saw someone on a Facebook group claim an image was from their own collection, when it had an obvious London Borough of Barnet logo in the middle of it.
Another issue that I find rather unfortunate is the individuals who, on Facebook groups in particular, will fire up loads of old images of places and things, and as well as not properly crediting where they found the image, will also produce minimal captions. I have lost count the number of times I have seen someone post up a really quite wonderful archive image, and left so many unanswered questions as to where the place is, or when it was taken. A lot of this information is available, whether it be in the book, or the website it was copied from, so why not add it?
Lastly do be aware that you cannot really claim ownership of an image unless you or a family member took it, or you have made an agreement with the person whose photo it is. If the photo comes from a book, it should have a credit, and a picture postcard can still be under copyright. Oh, and simply putting a filter over the image or some other fancy gimmick does not suddenly make it yours.
Sharing old images is fun, and it can be incredibly educational. But just think about where that image came from, and try and pay respect to it.

P.S. – you will note that there are no images used in this blog post!!
Mark Amies lives in Edgware and is a local historian. He has a book coming out soon. You can follow him on Twitter at @Superfast72

The Barnet Eye recently made a film with Mark about the history of Airco in Colindale

Guest blogs are always welcome at the Barnet Eye. Email us at with your submission. Must be relevant to the Borough of Barnet or other topics we cover such as dyslexia, grassroots football, cancer or grassroots music

Wednesday 22 January 2020

Always treat knock backs as positive

I have some very disappointing news today. A business/music project that I've been working with friends for a year to develop, is not going to be proceeding, at least not in the shape we had envisaged. It is a huge shame as London is absolutely crying out for what we were looking to deliver.  Had the project proceeded, we'd have delivered a massive upgrade to Mill Hill Music Complex facilities. A key part of this would be to deliver a holistic element to the practical requirements we've been delivering for the last 40 years. One of the major challenges facing musicians is the lack of financial, business and mental health support that they receive from the industry. There is an old saying that when you are on the up, everyone wants a piece of you and when you are on the down, no one wants to know. Our project was hoping to pull together partner companies, to provide a full and comprehensive back up for musicians as well as mentoring and career development training, advice and backup. Our partners have a strong track record in this field and all of the feedback was positive. The only stumbling block was that to fully deliver this we required investment of £2.2 million. We put a business plan together and reached out  to financial organisations, investors and other interested parties.

What scuppered the project was that all of the people we approached saw the proposal purely as a building development project. As this was the major expense in the scheme, this was a not unreasonable position for them to take, as it is their money, but ultimately meant that they did not wish to proceed on what I passionately believe is not only a brilliant investment opportunity, but something that London is crying out for.

This is not the first time I've had knock backs when trying to develop my business. Every time I've ever approached a financial organisation for loans or high net worth individuals for investments, they make it absolutely clear that they do not get the music industry and see it as high risk. What this has ultimately meant is that I've had to work ten times harder, had to set up other business deals to finance the schemes and take on second and third jobs to realise the schemes. Ultimately, this has been a good thing. It has taken far longer to get there, but the only debt in the company is to me as an individual, and I've acquired a whole range of other skills on the way.

So the first task of today is to to take a long hard look at our proposal and see how we can deliver the scheme through other means. I have no doubt that we will succeed. I have no doubt that the road will be rockier, there will be more grey hairs and that it will take longer than we hoped. I also have no doubt that in five years time, we will have got there, we will be delivering the things that we need to deliver in Mill Hill and that ultimately, it will be financially better for us as we will have more control and less people to share the spoils with.

My mantra has always been that if you let obstacles on the path stop you, then you didn't really want it in the first place. It is frustrating, it can be difficult but ultimately if you want something you will get there. The important thing is to recognise that there are always lessons to be learned and also that you will have acquired knowledge on the way. Every life lesson, whether positive or negative will give you a new set of tools to add to your personal toolkit. I believe that everything happens for a reason and once you can see that, you can derive something positive from every experience.

For me, the greatest  pleasure is seeing people coming down to my business to live their dreams. When we started, Mill Hill had no real musical facilities. No people travel across the globe to use the studios. That is great, but so is when we see local families bringing their youngsters down for ballet and violin lessons. I am a strong believer that the future is bright if we invest in the next generation. That is what drives me to keep on working.

I was trying to decide what video or picture I would add to accompany this blog. I settled on this clip from 2010. We sponsored a project back then called Soundskool that gave young people the opportunity to participate in music courses and then gave them the opportunity to perform in public. The scheme was an amazing success, but once the funding period finished, unfortunately the scheme moved out and is now based in Camden. At the time our studios were a building site as we were building our new block and we were operating out of a portacabin. The fact that we could deliver such an amazing program in those circumstances and benefit so many local young people just shows what you can do with faith. There is an obstacle in our path. We will get around it. We always do!

If you want to get involved in making this happen, feel free to get in touch and we can have a chat. They say charity begins at home. We are not looking for charity, just people who want to invest in their own local community and help us get facilities fit for the amazing young people we have in our community.

Tuesday 21 January 2020

Lord deliver us from our local philistine Conservatives

I despair, I truly despair. Just before Christmas, I shared a beer with local Mill Hill Conservative John Hart. Of all the councillors in Barnet, John is probably the best to have a conversation with, not least about issues other than politics. John is a retired University lecturer, specialising in foreign languages. He started the Union of Polytechnic lecturers, which probably makes him unique amongst Conservative politicians. John is a man of learning, born in India, married to a Spanish woman for many years, fluent in many languages. We had a fascinating conversation about how learning French properly is about far more than the grammar and the words. He told how he'd explain the social customs of nations to his students. This detail extended to what sort of flowers you would buy the bosses wife if asked to dinner. I find languages fascinating. My wife studied Russian at Manchester University,  including a period in Minsk, the year after the Chernobyl disaster. I visited the USSR with her on several occasions after. She secured a job working at the Anglo Soviet Creative Association, one of her jobs was to organise the Moscow Premiere of Gone with the Wind, as well as filming of TV series such as Sharpes Rifles in the Ukraine.

The only languages I've ever really got anywhere near understanding are Swedish and French. I lived in Stockholm for six months in 1981, and picked it up watching English films with Swedish subtitles. . As for French, I volunteer for a charity that takes people with disabilities to France. Although my French is not great, I can get by. I wish that I had an aptitude for language in the way that Clare and John have. Perhaps my greatest regret is that my particular flavour of dyslexia makes fromally learning any language a total misery. Even English is a challenge, I didn't speak at all until I was four years old. My mother thought I was either deaf or mute. I can still recall being taken to the Audiology clinic in Hartley Avenue for tests as a child. I was told that I had to press a button when I heard a noise and if I didn't when I heard it, they could tell and I'd be in trouble. That concluded that I had no hearing issues. My elective mutism ended when we were at the family dinner table. I shocked everyone by suddenly announcing "I wanna piece of cake". I was amused to read that Albert Einstein, also a dyslexic didn't speak until he was four. His first words were also at the dinner table. When his mother put his lunch in front of him, he announced "I don't like peas". His mother was stunned and said "You can speak, why didn't you speak before". Einstein replied "Everything was alright before". That is probably where the parallels between myself and Albert Einstein end.

Sadly, John is one of the last of the breed of local Conservatives where a proper education is valued. It is interesting to note that the last cabinet job Margaret Thatcher had before becoming  PM was as Education secretary. She was a passionate advocate of Comprehensive education, believing that it would deliver a better, fairer and more equitable education than the previous system of Grammar and Secondary modern schools. I was one of the beneficiaries of this policy. My first secondary school was Finchley Catholic High, an amalgamation of Finchley Grammer and Challoner school (a private boys school for Catholics who failed the eleven plus). When I joined, the Headmaster was still a Priest. We were forced to do Latin as a compulsory subject for three years. Our Latin teacher would explain that an understanding of Latin was the best way to get to grips with modern linguistics and would give us an excellent base for speaking other languages. Whilst I had no aptitude for the language, one of the things he would do was to pick a word and explain the Latin roots of this. Whilst the grammar etc never sunk in, many of these did. It has always been useful and has convinced many people that I am far more intelligent than I really am, when I can throw in some such useless knowledge. One of the words that stuck in my mind was Pragmatic. He explained how historically the Latin usage of the word meant conceited and interfering. This has often been useful when people have suggested a 'pragmatic' approach. Of  course the word has a different current meaning, but you can certainly have some fun armed with this knowledge (to me the probably the best reason for education).

Today, as part of the twitter banter with the local Conservatives that I so enjoy, I was able to deploy this when one of our young local councillors Felix Byers suggested that it was a good thing  that the local Tories were pragmatic.

To my surprise, Felix's response demonstrated perfectly the appalling attitude to education and intelligent conversation that so troubles me about many of the new generation of Tories. To even suggest that you 'Descend into Latin' is the sign of a true philistine. If he was Plato or Socrates (the philosopher, not the Footballer), I could perhaps understand it, as the Greeks viewed the Romans as uneducated, but sadly Felix is neither of these characters. The whole Conservative approach to education is absolutely appalling. It seems that they view it as a transaction. The Conservative philosophy seems to be that the purpose of an education is to get you a job and you should pay for this transaction in the shape of a student loan (or from the bank of mummy and daddy if you are lucky).

Interestingly, this is quite a Roman view of the subject. The Romans would actually keep Greek slaves to do their thinking for them and solve the more complex problems. They saw little value in educating anyone beyond the level of the basic needs to do their jobs. The British  have always taken a rather different view. This is why we have fantastic universities such as Oxford and Cambridge. To get accepted for these colleges, you primarily need to demonstrate that you can think. This is why so many great things have been invented in the UK. We are good at solving problems, which involves thinking about them.

When I was at FCHS,  our Latin teacher was Mr Perdoni. For reasons I don't really understand, he quite liked me, even though I was rubbish at the subject.  I recall one day being sent to him, as he was also our year master, to receive the cane for some trivial transgression. At Finchley Catholic in 1977, this was pretty much a daily occurrence, but on this occasion he seemed rather agitated about the whole thing. He informed me that he was rather busy. He told me to wait outside and think about what had happened. He then said if I could think of a good reason why I should not get the cane, when he had finished what he was doing, he'd let me off. I sat there for about five minutes. As I wasn't overly keen on being beaten with a cat o' nine tails, my brain went into overdrive. Appealing to his better nature would fail. Claiming it wasn't me would fail. Eventually, I thought 'This is a Catholic school and as I am truly contrite, mercy and forgiveness is at the heart of our ethos I should be forgiven'. When I was called in, he said "Well, what have you come up with?" So I explained. He looked slightly shocked and said "How long have you been here, that isn't really how this school works, is it?".  I responded by saying "At mass, the Gospel was all about casting the first stone and forgiveness. Did Jesus not say 'go and sin no more'." At this Mr Perdoni said, "are you saying you won't sin anymore if I let you off?" . I responded that I'd try my hardest. He said "Ok, I'll give you a chance, but if you come back here, you will be caned twice".  He then said "That was a very good defence, I wasn't expecting something so well thought out". My classmates referred to Mr Perdoni as Spiny, and when I returned, they were all keen to know what the punishment was. When I explained that I'd persuaded him that forgiving sinners was a more suitable solution they were amazed, and thought I was winding them up. It was a lesson that I never forgot. It made me realise that you can change outcomes if you think about things intelligently.

Sadly, it rather seems to me that Felix did not have the benefit of an education involving Luigi Perdoni. It's not Felix's fault, he's a young man who has come through a very different system. It has made me realise just how badly we are treating our young people, in making them see education through a transactional viewpoint. It is no surprise that young men such as Felix, who is a nice, amiable chap and I actually quite like, can make such throwaway comments about perhaps our greatest asset as a species, language. I think it would be a good thing if John Hart took him under his wing and made him realise that there really is more to the world than Facebook, Twitter and social media and if you can understand languages such as Latin, your life will be immeasurably richer.

Monday 20 January 2020

Environment Monday - What can we learn from Australia and the bush fire crisis

One of the worlds biggest stories of the last month has been the Australian bush fires. I have a special connection with Australia as my Dad was an Aussie. He was born near Blackall, Queensland in 1917 (a free pot noodle for the first person to find it on a map). His father was an engineer working boring artesian wells in the outback. The main industries were mining and farming and water was the most precious commodity of all. Around 1920 the family were living in Yaraka, at the end of a train line in central Queensland is on Coopers Creek. At the time, the town had a population of around 100.  My father told me that he was four years old before he saw rain, there was a huge drought at the time of his birth. He told how he was awoken by his dog madly barking. When he emerged, he was amazed to see that the dirt track running through the town was now a massive expanse of water. Within days, the outback, which had been arid and dry and completely bereft of vegetation, was a blaze of glorious colour. Many of the dwellings erected by settlers were flooded in the deluge. As my grandfather was an engineer, he had sensibly looked for where the signs of erosion and water deposits had ended an built on land high enough to avoid the water. The ending of the drought transformed the local economy. When my aunt Hazel died, I was amazed to read that  the first bath she had was when she was in her 40's and moved to Townsville. Previously in the outback, water was too precious to waste. These were the stories I grew up with. To me, living in London, where water was on tap, it seemed strange beyond belief. It did however give  me an insight into the importance of understanding nature, the importance of natural resources and that we should not take such resources for granted.

My Aussie cousins are very divided on their views on matters of environment. Some absolutely believe that global warming is nonsense and all we are seeing is the natural cycle of the earths climate. Others take the diametrically opposed view and see Australia on the edge of a precipice of environmental doom. The fires have, if anything, made this divide worse. Those who see climate change as a threat see the fires as proof of their arguments. Those that do not accept the science of climate change simply see it as something that has been happening in Australia since the start of history. They quote the drought my father spoke of as evidence that this has all been seen before. They see many of the arguments of environmental campaigners as simply an attack on the traditional economy of Australia. They post pictures of charging points for electric cars attached to diesel generators on facebook as evidence of the nonsense of the green argument. Many feel that green energy policies have directly damaged their standard of living and further threaten their livelihood and their traditional way of outback life.

It is clear to me that there are massive vested interests in Australia that are spending huge amounts of money influencing the population to support mining and the oil industry. It is also clear to me that those championing green arguments are not making their case in a way that demonstrates that it is in the interest of the ordinary Aussie. The one thing that I've been aware of since the first day I opened my eyes is that Australians are not partial to BS. Many of my fathers stories from the second world war involved Aussie air crew standing up to the RAF officer class who were not telling them the truth about what was going on. Crews often took matters into their own hands, not flying missions according to the orders, but flying in a way that completed the operation and gave them a better chance of coming home. I see that same stubborn streak in my cousins who see the whole issue of the green agenda as a huge con job to bankrupt them and ruin Australia.  What infuriates them even more is they see the other side view them as thick and out of touch. This is perhaps the biggest Achilles heal of what we call progressive politics. Many on the left believe that they are morally and intellectually superior to those  that disagree with them. For many ordinary people who are non political, this is a massive turn off. Just as it has entrenched the ordinary Aussies in opposition to the green agenda, we saw the demolition of the 'Red Wall' in the 2019 election because ordinary working class voters had enough of Islington Labour and its condescending view towards them. The sheer snobbishness in many comments about Labour leadership contender Jesse Phillips shows just how alive and well this air of patronising superiority runs. If I was a Labour member I wouldn't vote for Phillips, but the campaign against her is appalling. She  represents a strand of the party that needs to be engaged if Labour is ever to win another election.

The exact same thing has happened in Aussie politics. The working classes who traditionally have supported the Aussie Labour party have fallen out of love with the politicians it has delivered. The logical conclusion of this process is sadly Donald Trump style politicians. What we see with Trump is voters connecting with a politician who speaks their language and understands their mindset. They recognise him as a man who reflects their concerns and views. A man who doesn't lecture them and who doesn't hector them. The messages are simple. Look after no 1 and don't give a stuff about the consequences. When we hear "Make America great again", the subtext is that the rest of the world can screw itself if it doesn't like what the US has to say. For many working class Amaericans that is just what they want to hear. There was a fascinating article in the Sunday Times yesterday, detailing how the US top generals tried to get Trump onside with their policies and Trump responded by calling them all idiots and saying that none of them were capable of winning a war. The graphs, bar charts and experts simply bored Trump and he felt the need to show them who was in charge.

The ordinary voter connects with Trumps response. The same is true for many ordinary Aussies. Pauline Hanson, who set up the right wing One Nation party is perhaps the best example. Hanson has claimed that climate change is not a man made phenomenon. She is a staunch supporter of the Australian mining and coal industries and for many ordinary Aussies, she is the only politician who speaks their language. The more the left ridicules her, the more ordinary Aussie voters feel that she must be right.

The challenge for the Left/Centre left across the world is that they have lost touch with the people who they should be representing. Unless the parties that are meant to represent the ordinary working people can reconnect, there is little chance of substantive changes needed to try and address the climate crisis. This cannot be done by lecturing the working classes or treating them like idiots. This can only be done by ensuring that the policies deliver real benefits for them and address their concerns and issues. In the UK just as in Australia, many rural communities and towns away from the major centres of population and wealth are ignored and left to rot. In the UK in  the 1960's, the Beeching rail closure programme removed railways from hundreds of towns, villages and communities. Short lived 'replacement bus services' were supposed to fill the gap, but there was no real effort to understand the effects of these closures on the communities affected. It is fascinating how both rail nationalisation and privatisation have completely failed to deliver for ordinary people, BR closed many much needed lines and privatisation has made it hellishly expensive. This demonstrates to me that neither of the main parties really have the solutions.

There are some major lessons that the UK needs to learn from the bush fire crisis. Whilst our weather means that such devastation is unlikely here, we are not immune from the effects. The first lesson is that when you neglect important things in society, bad things happen. In Australia, it is clear that not enough money was spent on preparation for fires. In the UK, there are clear threats to our society caused by neglect of our infrastructure. Fixing this will improve the country and improve our quality of life. This must be done in a sustainable way. We desperately need to start developing practical, science based solutions to issues such as global warming, pollution and bad air quality. If we start to invest in these technologies, we will become the leaders in these fields and the UK will see the economic benefit.

Having such a long term plan works. The evidence is there for all to see. In the 1960's the UK built all of the locomotives on its railways. Sadly under BR, the government starved the industry of investment. At the same time, the Japanese, French, Germans and Italians spent huge sums on developing their industry. The UK is now, after many decades, refreshing the rolling stock on our rail networks and virtually all of the trains have been developed in these countries. They are reaping the benefits of spending hard cash on building industries fit for the new century. We never seem to learn this lesson. All investments in the UK are driven by short term gain on the stock market. We have no real plan for our railways, driven by a coherent national plan. Likewise, we have no coherent plan to decarbonise energy production, clean up the air in our cities, address pollution and litter and make our schools, hospitals and councils fit for purpose.

What we should have is a Royal Commission set up to deliver a UK economy fit for the 21st century. I believe that good, clean transport links should be at the heart of this. We should build our transport networks around the hubs we need to use. As an example,  I thought I'd see how easy it was to get from my house in Mill Hill to Barnet General hospital, our nearest A&E

DepartMill Hill Broadway Station - Boarding at Stop D at 11:59via240 bus or 221 bus to Cloister Gardens
240 bus or 221 bus to Cloister Gardens
Journey time:
4 min
Step 2
DepartCloister Gardens - Boarding at Stop B at 12:09via292 bus to Stirling Corner / Barnet Lane
292 bus to Stirling Corner / Barnet Lane
Journey time:
8 min
Step 3
DepartStirling Corner - Boarding at Stop B at 12:30via107 bus to Barnet Hospital / Queens Road
107 bus to Barnet Hospital / Queens Road
Journey time:
7 min
Step 4
DepartBarnet Hospital / Queens Road at 12:37viaWalk to 1 Wellhouse Lane, Arkley
Walk to 1 Wellhouse Lane, Arkley
Journey time:
7 min
Arrive at1 Wellhouse Lane, Arkley at 12:441 Wellhouse Lane, Arkley

As you can see, the journey involves three buses. As this is a journey most Mill Hill residents would have to make at some point, this is clearly ridiculous. From  a green perspective, all of these involve a diesel driven bus. The tragedy is that in 1964, a perfectly good railway was pulled up that would link Edgware and Mill Hill Broadway with the Barnet branch of the Northern line and make this journey far easier. Had this been added to the tube network as planned before the war, then the journey would be made by an electric train. Interestingly, the town of Yaraka mentioned above also lost it's railway line. The town now only has 13 residents. It seems that the local councils there asked for a new road and this was funded by the closure of the line, so it's not just the UK where rail infrastructure is abandonded.

Ultimately, we will only address global warming and bad air quality when we start to address these sort of things. If the Mill Hill East - Edgware line was reinstated then there would be four  major benefits. Better air quality as less diesel buses needed, less greenhouse gases as electricity can be produced from renewable sources and a quicker journey across the Borough. It may also result in less people needing Barnet General for breathing issues etc. There was a proposal for this, called the "Brent Cross Light railway" which would have linked Finchley Central to Brent Cross and beyond. Sady, no one in Barnet Council had the vision to see the benefits of this proposal. The truth is that we need hundreds of schemes like this to start to make a difference. My view is that we should start in areas of greatest need, such as those with deprivation and bad air quality. As the BCLR would run through Graham Park, it would certainly tick that box. Light rail schemes certainly seem to me the way to go. Personally, I'd like to see hydrogen cell powered trams considered, as these are clean and do not require the metalwork and costs of electric cables.

There other low cost schemes that could also help the appalling air quality in the Borough of Barnet. I'd like to see the planing of shrubs on the edges of the A1, A41 and M1, which have been proven to remove particulates. In Cricklewood a new aggregates hub has had huge sound baffles fitted. I'd like to see these fitted all along the M1 between Mill Hill and Staples Corner. These could also be fitted with Solar panels to deliver a massive amount of energy. This would dissipate the noise from the roads, delivering a far better environment for local residents.

As such schemes would deliver practical benefits for residents, I believe that they would be supported by local people and there would be no need to hector or lecture residents, in the way that has so turned off my Aussie cousins.

My mantra has long been "think globally, act locally".