Sunday 31 May 2020

The Tweets of the week in the London Borough of Barnet - 31/05/2020

So next week we will sort of emerged from lockdown. You may think that lockdown would have affected the quality of tweeting in our locality, but there's been some absolute crackers this week. So here for your delectation are my top ten.

1. This is my favourite tweet for a very long time. I well remember Frank Callis and his bike shop. I think that this is incorrect as the shop was demolished so that they could build Budgens (now M&S), but I recognise quite a few of the characters, most of whom were friends of my Dad, who was a Rotarian at the time.

2. Any excuse for a great picture of a great local institution.

3. This is a nice historical picture of Burnt Oak

4.  This little video put together by the Borough of Barnet archivist Hugh Petrie has been attracting a lot of attention. It is rather sweet.

5. Nice tweet from Andrew Ridgeley, bringing back the days of his partner in crime George's Dad, who ran a fine restaurant in Edgware. My Dad was rather partial to the steaks there. I suspect most people will be interested in other aspects of the pic though!

6. Some rather odd looking train carriages at Cricklewood this weekend! A new dimension in portacabins!

7. You may have noticed that some of our grass verges have not been mowed. This is great for butterflies.

8. Nice picture of one of our favourite Mill Hill scenes

9. Rather like this shot of Gary Lineker back in the days when he trained with Spurs at Chase Lodge, Mill Hill

10.And finally, we finish with an important message. Our little bit of London has seen some of the worlds finest musicians originate from these parts. Lets make sure that this continues.

That's all folks

Saturday 30 May 2020

The Saturday List #264 - How I lost six of my nine lives

My star sign is a Leo, my Chinese birth sign is a Tiger.  I guess that makes me a big pussycat, and it gives me nine lives. I decided to count up how many of them I've used up. I make it five so far.

1. 1962.
When my mum fell pregnant, she was unwell. She'd had five children and two miscarriages. She was advised that it was extremely unlikely that she'd see me born. At some point it was identified that there was an issue with the Rhesus factor. This happens when two parents blood types are not compatible. My mother spent nearly six months in hospital. I was born six weeks early and needed a series of blood transfusions. My mother once told me that in this day and age she'd probably have had an abortion, as having had five she'd done her bit. One life down

2. 1966.
I was three years old. My parents went to Butlins at Clacton. The swimming pool had windows onto the street. I was fascinated by these. When we were at the pool, I decided to jump in. As I couldn't swim, jumping in the deep end was not a sensible move. None of the family noticed, but fortunately an eagle eye'd lifeguard did. He pulled me out and told off my parents for not keeping an eye on me. It put me off swimming and I didn't learn until I was sixteen. Two lives down.

My sister Caroline had a Triumph Herald Convertible. She rented it to the Haircut 100 for their video of Fantastic Day. With the proceeds, we all went on the lash. Her then boyfriend was a drunk, who took no notice of the drink driving laws. After an evening hitting the bars of London, he drove us all back. As the traffic lights changed on the A41, where the intersection with the Borroughs is, he announced that this was his favourite bend in the world and floored the accelerator. The car sped off, as we went around the bend, he lost control. The car span through 360  degrees and then another 180, leaving us in the middle of the triple carriageway facing the wrong way. Miraculaously, no other cars were hit and no damage was done. Luckily, we were all so bladdered that it was not as stressful as it should have been Three lives down.

4. 1984.
I remember St Lucia's day well. The firm I worked for always made a point of celebrating it in style. The project I was working on had it's roots in an IT system for Svenska Handelsbanken, and St Lucia's day is a big celebration. We'd all get into work early and have a special, highly alcoholic, hot punch and ginger snaps. It was a day when not much got done. The day is the 13 December. We had a splendid day, followed by a splendid evening in the pub. I woke up on the 14th and I felt ill, very ill. I had recently split up with a long term girlfriend and moved home. I sat on the couch and the next thing, I was throwing up blood. My Father didn't mess around, he put me in the car and drove me to Edgware General. I spent the next month in hospital, and was informed that I was not to drink for six months, which I stuck to for three. At a check up after three months, I told the doctors that I found that fruit juice was making me feel very ill. They said that it was actually worse for the stomach than weak beer, so I allowed myself a couple of pints of weak lager. My weight dropped from thirteen stone to eight, all my friends told me after that they thought I had AIDS. After six months I was discharged. The doctor informed me that I was very lucky indeed to have recovered, and cautioned against anything that could cause a reoccurrence. They had concluded that the problem was actually caused by a prescription of Erythromycin, which I'd been taking for an ear infection. I'd finished this two days before St Lucia's, but they said this had severely damaged the lining of my stomach. I've always been very wary of medicines and doctors ever since. Four Lives Down

5. 1988.
I'd arranged to travel to Plymouth to meet a friend, who was a Plymouth Argyle fan, to watch Man City play Plymouth at Home Park. The first part of my journey was to Burnt Oak, to get the tube into town. I had to pick up some cash, from the cash machine, so I walked from the bus stop to get to the Nat West on the corner, opposite what was the Co-op. The lights were red, and the green man was flashing as I made my way across. In the turn left lane was a 292 bus. As I stepped further, I saw a car heading for me at 40mph, jumping the lights. I realised it was going to hit me and there was nothing I could do. It might have bene my fifth life, but it was the first time I actually thought I'd die. They say your life rushes before your eyes at such times. It didn't. I just felt a tremendous feeling of calm. My Dad had died the previous year and I actually felt a great happiness that I'd be seeing him. But then my survival instincts kicked in. I wondered if I could jump high enough that the car would pass under me. A ridiculous concept, I know, but one that saved my life. It meant that rather than being hit head on and squashed under the car, the bonnet hit my thigh, my feet went through the windscreen, I rolled over the roof and off, landing on my head, that I'd used to protect my head. Despite a fractured tibia, a stress fracture of the spine and a huge bash on the thigh, I got up and the car driver drove me to Edgware General. The pain was so intense, that even the strongest pain killers couldn't dull it. Perhaps the worst aspect was that I had quit BT the day before and was supposed to start a new job at TSB on Monday, ironically replacing another member of staff in the IT department who had been run over. As it was, I started two weeks later. I've had a degree of pain in my back and leg every day since. Five lives down.

6. 2015.
Someone up there loves me. In 2011, I had some issues with severe knee pain. The doctor I saw at  Millway practice, the rather excellent Dr Harris, suggested an 'MOT' check up. The PSA level came back as slightly raised. It is documented elsewhere on this blog that I was diagnosed with cancer. In 2011, it was agreed that we'd adopt a strategy of  'active surveillance'. This meant regular PSA tests, biopsies, MRI scans etc. In 2015, it was detected that the cancer was turning aggressive. I had HiFU treatment at UCH under Mr Emberton. This successfully dealt with the issue. Now had I not had a bad knee, had I not seen a good doctor, who gave me good advice, I would never have suspected this. At no point have I had any symptoms. Who knows what shape I'd be in now. It is worth noting that the NHS don't even do the PSA test as part of the well man checkups any more. So I was lucky, right place, right time and right doctor. Six lives down.

I have realised that I am in my sixth decade and I've used six lives. At this rate, I should make my ninth decade, God willing. I've got to say, I am glad that I was born in August in 1962 though, I doubt I'd be here otherwise. So hopefully you'll have to put up with my blatherings for a good few years to come.

Friday 29 May 2020

The Friday Joke - "The funniest Joke I ever heard" by James Stewart

So lockdown will be lifted just a little bit on Monday. Get the sausages and hand sanitiser in, order a box of wine, a crate of beer and dust off the patio chairs.

To get you in a cracking mood, here is a classic joke from the late, great James Stewart. If you have never watched "It's a beautiful life", make sure you put the last weekend of full lockdown to good use. Perhaps the most life affirming film ever made. They don't make them like James Stewart anymore.

Have a great weekend. Life is going to get better soon.

Thursday 28 May 2020

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

Image result for Mill HilL Broadway Mill Hill
The Broadway
I wrote this blog in August 2018 originally. I wanted to voice my concerns about what was happening in Mill Hill Broadway. I thought I should revisit it, in light of the current COVID19 crisis.

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

First of all lets consider why High streets change. Generally the properties are owned by Landlords. They want to make as much money as possible from their assets. If Cosways Estate Agents will pay a higher rent than the model shop, then any sane businessman would be quite happy to see them take over the lease. As a Landlord of commercial properties, I fully understand that the first priority is to get a return on your investment. Tenants sign leases for periods often between five and twenty years with rent reviews built in. If property prices in an area double in that time, then the rental values will follow suit. If you are renting a shop in Mill Hill Broadway for £50,000 a year and making a profit of £50,000 and you get a rent review which doubles your rent, overnight your business is making nothing. On top of that there have been big rises in business rates for many High St businesses. The government has not recognised that a) Thriving High Streets are good for the nation and b) Most of the businesses in them are currently struggling. It is clear to anyone with any knowledge of retailing (I run a shop as one of my businesses), that the goverment needs to overhall the way it taxes business, both small and large. The percentage of tax that the countries largest retailer, Amazon pays in relation to independent High Street businesses is obscenely unfair. Small businesses do not want special treatment, but asking for a level playing field is not unreasonable. Not only can Amazon use their huge buying power to leverage massive bulk discounts, they pay miniscule taxes on what they sell. Sadly very few of us would want to pay a higher price because we would like to retain our High Street stores. The government has been forced to recognise the reality of the problems in certain areas of the High Street as a result of the COVID crisis. As the hospitality sector has become vital to the wellbeing of trade, generous grants have been put into place to help small shops. Furthermore, many have had their business rates cancelled for the year. Whilst this has bought some firms breathing space, many are worried that when rates start again. I am not criticising Rishi Sunak. He was faced with a massive short term crisis and he had to respond quickly. What we do need is a strategy to build on this breathing space. For our communities, this will be a key to making sure there is a recovery. Whilst his scope for helping may be limited due to the huge spending he's had to make, I still believe it will be sensible to try and help start ups and small businesses. When I originally wrote this blogs we were seeing a buoyant property market and big rent increases. Whatever the outcome of the covid19, I doubt any aspect of it will inflate property prices and I think any business renewing their lease in the next couple of years is likely to get a very good deal. We may also see some businesses actually being able to afford to buy freeholds. I'd urge anyone who can to seriously consider this. The depressed property market will provide an almost unique opportunity.

One byproduct of the rise of the internet retailers is the huge proliferation of delivery van on our streets. I'd be interested in comparing the carbon footprint of a pound of sausages bought from Boucheire Gerard (our local butcher in the Mill Hill) with one ordered from an on line retailer. Interestingly the COVID crisis, where people couldn't get their online sausages, gave Gerard a huge boost to trade. I hope that people remember where they could get their sausage and eggs when things return to normal.

There are many aspects of the move to online retailing which are detriminetal to our quality of life and pollution and traffic are certainly things that should be taken into consideration when working out a more equitable taxation policy. This may even encourage the likes of Amazon to consider cycle couriers as a first choice in urban areas. There is talk of a huge distribution depot in Mill Hill on the Pentavia site. This means that Mill Hill, Burnt Oak and Colindale have suddenly become a great place to run cycle based distribution. I sincerely hope Barnet Council use the opportunity to make safe cycling a priority. That would be a real win-win.

I was speaking to a friend who works in civil engineering who told me that there has been a marked increase in wear and tear on local roads in recent years. As delivery vans and lorries are significantly heavier than private cars, could the boom in online deliveries be contributing to the pothole epidemic we're seeing? If it is, then this is in effect another hidden subsidy that taxpayers are giving on line retailers.

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

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

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

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

As for the cafe bar end of the market. There was much gnashing of teeth about Cafe Nero opening in certain quarters. There was a cry of "not another coffee bar". I was a little disappointed with this. Cafe Nero are a very different proposition to Costa. As it was, this never materialised. The talk was that Cafe Nero decided that Mill Hill wasn't good for their brand. The ex HSBC building they were planning to use hopefully will be opening as a cafe bar soon.  Given the trends in High Streets and retail, I think town centres need to embrace the cafe culture, it really is here for the foreseeable future. They are good for the High Street, they make people appreciate that it is worth spending time on them. The Broadway has a thriving cafe culture. When I was kid, there was really no such thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 27 May 2020

My open letter to Matthew Offord MP concerning road safety and fitness to drive

Dear Dr Offord,

I am writing concerning recent statements made to the media concerning driving whilst unfit. As I am sure you are aware, both Mr Dominic Cummings and Michael Gove have stated to the media that they have ‘gone for a drive to see if they are capable of driving’.

Putting the other issues to one side, I cannot see any way a responsible member of the government could possibly endorse such dangerous practices. No one should ever get behind the wheel of a car, unless they know they are 100% fit to drive. Not only have they put themselves and their families at risk, they have put other road users and pedestrians at risk.

My father ran a crash repair business in Mill Hill for 40 years and I grew up seeing the results of unsafe driving on a daily basis. I also had the unfortunate experience of being run over by a driver, who was not paying attention, travelling at 40mph, at the traffic lights at Burnt Oak. I still suffer daily pain from the injuries.

As such, I am asking you to make the strongest possible representations to the Prime Minister to ensure that both Mr Gove and Mr Cummings are not only reminded of their responsibility to promote safe behaviour in their cars, but publicly state that their behaviour has been dangerous and stupid.

Whilst I have strong views on the other aspects of this business, for me the road safety concerns are issues that can under no circumstances be justified.

Regards, Roger Tichborne 

Update 28/05/2020

Matthew Offord has issued a statement on his website. It doesn't address my question, but he does express criticism of Mr Cummings behaviour -

Should I receive a reply I will update this blog

Tuesday 26 May 2020

No place like home?

Back in 1944, my father was serving in the Royal Air Force. He was stationed in a large base in Foggia in Southern Italy and was flying active service missions in a Wellington bomber, attacking targets in Italy, Germany, Yugoslavia and Rumania. I've no real idea how this would have affected him. He was always happy to talk about the war, but rarely about the darker aspects of it. Although he was a prisoner of war in Rumania, he only ever spoke highly of the Italian people. The occasional references he made to German camp guards portrayed them as rather stupid. I asked him about this once and he said "the last thing any decent soldier would want to be was a guard in a prisoner of war camp", making it clear that he felt them to be the dregs of the German army, in every respect. He had a lot of professional admiration for the capabilities of Luftwaffe pilots.

The only Axis soldiers he ever spoke in any way negatively about were the Japanese. This was based on the harsh treatment of Australian POW's, including some of his close friends. He used to tell the story of how one of his friends was being held in a Japanese run POW camp and he and his comrades were being badly treated, and were starving. The camp commandant had two fine fighting cocks and in desperation, he killed it and ate it, with some other Aussie POW's. The camp commandant was furious and said that if the perpetrator did not own up, 50 men would be executed. My Dad's friend decided to own up. He was staked out in the sun for three days in the hot sun and on the third day all of the inmates were forced to watch his execution. The camp commandant offered him a final request. His response, knowing he was going to die, was the "The other cock for supper". Sadly that was the last thing he said. He cited it as proof of the unbreakable anti establishment ethos of the ordinary Australian. I used to view it as a 'funny story', but in one of my last conversations with my Dad, I asked him if it was true. He told me that it was, another friend who survived had witnessed it. But he went on to tell me that other Aussies had told him the same story about other people.

He was unimpressed when I told him it sounded like when The Sex Pistols played in Manchester. I explained that there were in reality about 30 people there, but if everyone who said they'd been there was, then the crowd would have filled Wembley Stadium. He then laughed, understanding that what I was referring to was the propensity of people to nick other peoples stories. He told me the Aussies were the worst for that. There is a scene in the film Gallipoli, where Paul Hogan's character is asked what his trade is. He lists a long list of achievements, ending with "and the biggest liar in Queensland" (if my memory serves me correctly).

But amidst all of the bravado, there was a softer side, a side I never really saw. My father was not one for sentimentality or displaying vulnerability, but my aunts effects are being cleared out and my cousin found some of my maternal grandmothers possessions in a bag. One of the items was this

It is a sketch of Wellington bomber flying through searchlights and anti aircraft fire. The inscription reads 'Even we who fly sometimes think there’s no place like home’.  My father was a talented artist, and had many sketchbooks of planes etc, none of which I've got. He was a very mechanically minded person and liked accurate drawings. My mother bought a large Picasso picture for the wall, which he hated, but she insisted on hanging up. His view was that it wasn't any good if it didn't look like the subject. What is interesting is that the plane appears to be diving to avoid the searchlights. My father told a story of how once he'd been targetted by a blue searchlight. These were rumoured to be radar guided and it was said if this illuminated you, then you had six seconds to live. He told me he immediately put the plane into a corkscrew dive and just managed to avoid the shells as they burst around him. When he returned to base, the RAF told him that no such German weapons existed. At an RAF reunion get together in the late 1970's, a weapons expert gave a talk. Someone asked about the blue searchlights and the expert again stated that these didn't exist. My father recounted that there was uproar as several pilots at the dinner had been shot down by them. When I queried why this should be, he said "The way it works here is that when they decide they are not going to tell you something, they won't tell you it, ever". Apparently a couple of years later, the same guy came back and gave a proper explanation. I do wonder if this sketch was a depiction of the incident? Something clearly made him a bit homesick. I was also puzzled as to why he sent it to my Grandmother instead of his then fiance, my Mum? I think the inscription gives a clue. My father at that time was an orphan, his mother had passed away in the 1930's, tragically in a road accident. I suspect that, as many of us do, when things get difficult, we want to be in a loving safe place, and perhaps my Dad had decided that 56 Milling Road in Burnt Oak was his safe place. 

There are two lessons I draw from this, from todays crisis. The first is perhaps a very sad one. The government are still lying to us, telling us things we know not to be true, thinking we are too stupid to realise. The second is that ultimately, there really is no place like home, especially in a time of great crisis. There are those who stay and fight and those who turn and run. I know what my Father did. Sadly I also know what the bloke directing our response to this virus did, when the chips were down. They say we get the leaders we deserve.That is perhaps the thing that troubles me the most. 

Monday 25 May 2020

Holidays in the Sun? Our guide to a holiday at home

We have a holiday booked for late September, the holiday of a lifetime! We will be flying over to Las Vegas, to retake our wedding vows in the Elvis chapel. Then we will make our way to Los Angeles, and take a cruise up to San Francisco.  We planned it last year and are going with friends.

The only problem is......

I have been giving much thought to the subject of a holiday at home this summer. If we can't do our little tour, maybe the tour could come to us? I was giving some thought to the things I like about the various places we've been. In Paris, the croissant for breakfast and the fine dining and great wines at diner, the little custard tarts you get in Lisbon. The champagne of Epernay. The cerveza and tapas of Barcelona. The moule and the beers of Brussels. The freshly grilled fish of Biarritz (the last place we went before the lockdown). With a little imagination, surely we can do this at home? Please note, this isn't a blog of ideas for a holiday in lockdown with your kids.

There is also the cultural aspect. On holiday, we always take in a gallery or two, do a bit of sightseeing and maybe watch some music or whatever the local culture is. It got me thinking. What films, documentaries or other TV/video/youtube would make one most encapsulate the culture of a nation and be worth watching? Some of the film recommendations, you'll have to pay a few pennies for, but it is far cheaper than the airfare! I think three days of Travel documentaries would be a bit dull, so I've tried to mix it all up a bit.

So here is my plan for a long weekend away in my own front room (and garden).

Saturday - Monte Carlo.
I've always been fascinated by Monte Carlo, since seeing the film Monte Carlo or Bust. My good friend Luke Albanese will recall how we used to play 'Monte Carlo Rally' in the back garden as kids, in tribute to this. We'd all choose a car and run as fast as we could in circles, skidding in the mud, until one day Luke's wheelspin ended with him landing in a muddy puddle in his new coat. No more Monte Carlo, but as a seven year old, it was a film that really sparked my imagination.

It is one place I've never been, but it would be on my bucket list, if I had such a thing.

So back to the plan. We'd start our holiday in style. We'd get up and have a champagne breakfast, with croissants and fresh strawberry jam. Once that had been polished off, we'd start to immerse ourselves in the culture and watch Monte Carlo rally again.

Once we were suitably in the mood, I would bring us to lunch. I had a look at the website for Maison Du Caviar, one of the better restaurants. For 32 Euro's you can get this.
As Clare is a pescatarian, the blini and Smoked Salmon look good to start, followed by the sea bream. Maybe we'd skip dessert.  A nice bottle of good French wine to wash it down would be very pleasant, after all, we are on holiday!

I find it quite inspiring to look at menus from good restaurants for ideas. I generally prefer to try out the restaurant first, then see how close I can get to recreating their finest dishes. A good restaurant pays close attention to detail and the flavours are not overpowering. One of the mistakes us wannabe cooks make is we over-egg the pudding. It is always good to simplify, but also to note the little touches.

French cooking done well is a marvel to behold. There is a certain ceremony, theatre and art to it. I do miss it and that is the element that you can't recreate, but maybe we'll put our glad rags on for this. 

For a post dejeunnere entertainment, maybe watch Grand Prix from 1966 with James Garner, The picture was photographed in Super Panavision 70 by Lionel Lindon, and presented in 70mm Cinerama in premiere engagements. Its unique racing cinematography is one of the main draws of the film. The film includes real-life racing footage and cameo appearances by drivers including Formula One World Champions Phil Hill, Graham Hill, Juan Manuel Fangio, Jim Clark, Jochen Rindt and Jack Brabham. Other drivers who appeared in the film include Dan Gurney, Ludovico Scarfiotti, Richie Ginther, Joakim Bonnier, Bruce McLaren and Jo Siffert.

As this may not be to Clare's taste, if we are feeling silly Herbie goes to Monte Carlo.  I used to love the Herbie films. It would be interesting to see how they have aged. Maybe we could watch both!

That takes us to diner. I had a quick shufti at the Restaurant Joel Rubichon for inspiration.
To be civilised, we'd start with a nice G&T. To eat? The Scallops look like a winner to start. The Royal Spiny Lobster on a chick pea bed looks good for a main. As to the dessert, Maybe we could try a crème Brule, if I could get hold of a blow lamp, and finish off with some good cheeses. A full bodied French wine would be great to wash it all down.

As to the evenings entertainment. I think a nice playlist of maybe some Serge Gainsbourg and Jacques Brel and the like. I'm not really a massive fan of French music, but we have time, so I guess that this is the time to check some of it out!

Sunday - Mexico.
The great thing about this weekend away is that distance is no problem. I've always fancied a little trip to Mexico. We stopped their briefly passing through a few years ago on a cruise from Cuba. It was lovely, but we didn't scratch the surface.

Breakfast -

The Mexican Chipotle and sweet potato Eggs Benedict looks pretty good to me. Maybe a Marguarita to wash it down.

To get us in the mood for some Mexican culture, we'll watch "Hecho en Mexico (Made in Mexico)", which is a highly recommended introduction to Mexican culture.

Lunch -
Tacos for lunch. These are always fun. Maybe washed down with a couple of beers. You can pick Corona lager up at the moment very cheap (can't think why). Taco's are easy to make and tasty.

For our afternoon's entertainment, I decided to go with Mexico's finest guitarist Carlos Santana. They really are an extraordinary band. I felt a bit of time travel back to 1970 would be order of the day!

There is no greater joy in life than just kicking back and listening to great music.

This takes us up to dinner. My experience of Mexican food is pretty much flavoured by Mestizo in Euston. I think that it would  be fun to do a take on their Mexican Tapas and the Prawns in Tamarind Sauce. If our meat eating friends were joining us, I may well try the Shank of Lamb in Mexican Sauces and some refried beans.  I am sure a few more tequila based cocktails would be in order.

As I know nothing about Mexican cinema, I googled to see the best films and found this list. I had a look and decided that this looked the most fun.

Now I'm assuming its a long weekend, like today, we have Monday to play with. I thought long and hard about where we should go. We've been to Europe and we've been to The America's. So where to next? It was a toss up between India, South Korea, Japan or Australia. I ruled out India, as I really think that you can't have proper India food without a proper Naan and we haven't got a Tandoori oven. South Korea was tempting, after the Oscars, the film making has been in vogue, but to be honest, I know little about the cuisine and when I did look, I felt that I didn't really know how much of it should taste, so there was plenty of room for getting it wrong. As one of my daughters has a deep love of Japanese culture, it was really tempting, but I figured that it would be her choices. As I am half Aussie, I ended up with an Aussie day.

Monday -

When we were in Sydney a couple of years ago, we discovered the joys of a Bills Breakfast.

I'd do my take on Bills Full Aussie - full Aussie - scrambled eggs, sourdough toast, cumin roast tomato, herbed garlic mushrooms, pork, chilli and fennel sausage, bacon. For Clare, I'd swap the Bacon for smoked Salmon and a Linda McCartney sausage for a porky one. Once that was polished off, a chilled morning.

The Aussie film industry has made some fantastic movies and there are some great bands. I think I'd probably settle for reading the papers whilst listening to Today Wonder by Aussie Legend Ed Kuepper, to get the day going. IMHO, this is the best Aussie Album of the lot.

Having had a large breakfast, I think we'd go for a late lunch/early dinner in true Aussie style with a Barbeque and a selection of their finest beers and wines. Now if you want to do an Aussie barbie properly, be careful. I did a quick search and this article came top.   I've been to a few Aussie Barbies over the years and I've got to say that the rules are simple, if everyone eats and drinks too much, they go home happy. We have two Webbers (Charcoal Barbie grills). One for meat and one for non meat. If you have fussy veggies, that is the only way to go and you really don't want sausages to be tinged with fishy smells.

My minimum requirements are
Sausages, burgers, Chicken (pre cooked and finished on the grill) with optional steak/lamb kebabs.

Salmon, King Prawns, Tuna (seared on the outside, pink in the middle use thick cuts).

Veggie Sausages/Burgers (Linda McCartney are good), Haloumi kebabs, Marinated Aubergine and Courgette skewers, Mushrooms and pineapple.

A few years ago, my cousin, who is backwoodsman Aussie came for a barbie. He was quite amazed that we did such things in London. He was equally surprised by just how tasty some of the Sausages from Boucherie Gerard were. I think he initially thought that us drinking red wines rather than Castlemaine 4X was sacrilege, but by the end of the evening he'd got the idea. I think he appreciated that as the night time temperature was not 40 degrees like Townsville, wine was not such a bad idea. Cultural appropriation is not always such a terrible thing.

 As it starts to chill outside, we'd move inside. There are so many movies to watch that it is hard to know where to start. There is a pretty good list here.  I'd recommend Walkabout and Muriels wedding, but my favourite Aussie film doesn't feature. It is Last Cab to Darwin.

So those are my choices. What are your ideas for your long weekend at home?

Sunday 24 May 2020

The Tweets of The Week in the London Borough of Barnet - 24/5/2020

So what has been happing in our little corner of paradise?  This is the story through the eyes of local army of tweeters.

1. Lets start in Burnt Oak, where whatever will replace the Bald Faced Stag is taking shape. Our local pub champion Mark Amies is keeping a beady eye on it

2. This tweet intrigues me. Where in Edgware is this and what is the story?

3. No Trains on Thameslink this weekend into London. Our trusty unofficial rail correspondent, the rather amazing Mr Robin Morel explains why

4. I love this tweet. It makes Hendon look so exotic. I must find this spot and take a little walk!

5. Great to see work progressing at the home of Edgware Town and Hendon FC. I know that this is technically Brent but both clubs have their sprititual base in the Borough of Barnet

6. This has to be the historical tweet of the week, a Halifax Bomber being built in Cricklewood. We must not forget our amazing local industrial history and we really should preserve what is left of it.

7. Whilst we are in Cricklewood, there was some other major news. DB rail opened a major railfreight hub this week, which will bring aggregates in for the many major local building projects.

8. And one of these projects will be the new station at Brent Cross, which received planning permission this week

9. I will definitely check this out when I next get the opportunity

10. There are snakes in the grass in Mill Hill, watch your step!

That's all folks.

Saturday 23 May 2020

The Answers - The Mill Hill and Surrounding Areas quiz no 3

So if you want to try the quiz before you see the answers, then follow this link

The two previous quizzes that we've put together have been very popular, so I've decided to put a third one together. This quiz takes in the surrounding areas which those of us who like a good walk may see. It is also a collaboration with two of my friends, Chris Fanning, who has provided an amazing local history round. Chris grew up in Mill Hill in the 1950's and 60's and his family ran a local building firm.  We also nagged an old friend of ours for a sports round. This is from a character readers of this blog will know well, Richard Wilkinson, who has provided the sports round. I have provided the picture round.Ten questions in each round, see how you do.  As with the previous quizzes, we will release the answers on Saturday. Please feel free to share.

Chris Fannings local history round.

1. Where was the plane crash in Mill Hill and what aircraft was it? The plane crashed into a wall on Highwood Hill, just before the junction with Marsh Lane, to the East of The Rising Sun. It was a Dakota.  You can still see where, as the wall was repaired with different bricks.  Here is some more info.

2. John Laing set up head office in Mill Hill and started constructing houses  in the towns around but where did he build his large housing estate in Mill Hill which was already quite well developed town.

This was the Sunnyfields Estate, off Lawrence Street. 

3. What year was the original Sacred Heart Mill Hill Catholic Church built by the Priest Architect Benedict Williamson?

The original Church was built in 1923.

4. Where was Nell Gwynne rumoured to be associated with a fine house built in Mill Hill?

Nell Gwynn allegedly stayed at Littleberries  - More info here

5. When the railway came to Mill Hill, the building of houses In the village started very slowly but where were the first houses built Just after the railway came

The first houses built to accommodate the Railway were the Midland Railway Cottages in Station Road, built for the workers.  You can just see one of the houses in Capture 40 on this link, on Reel Streets, for the film Hand in Hand, which had a scene filmed in Station Road and outside Mill Hill Synagogue -

6. What was the main produce grown on farmland in Mill Hill when the Midland Railway was built?

Hay farming, largely using seasonal Irish workers. There is still some hay farming on the St Josephs college fields, for local stables. You also see horses grazing

7. Bill Fraser the actor was often  seen on the Broadway but his famous T.V. partner also lived in a Mill Hill, where was that and who was he?

Bill was the half of Bootsie and Snudge comedy Duo in the sixties sitcom and the other one was Alfie Bass who lived on the corner of Woodcroft Avenue. Here they are in action

8. The Matthews Family were owners of the Forge in Lawrence Street and when The last blacksmith, Mr Matthews died he was buried in St Paul’s cemetery, what is placed on his grave?

A marble anvil was placed on his grave

9. What year was there a railway crash in Mill Hill Station?

This was 1961. You can see some great pictures on the Mempics website

10. What does the granite obelisk in Mill Hill park commemorate?

 Planting of trees to celebrate the coronation of King George VI and more recently the Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II

Richard Wilkinsons Sports Round

11. Which premier league team formerly trained on Pursley Road Playing fields?

Tottenham Hotspur FC

12. What was the name of the swimmer who won two gold medals in 2002 Commonwealth Games and what was their connection with Mill Hill.

Sarah Price - she was a member of the Barnet Copthall Swimming Club. 

13. What was the name of the holder of the 10,000 metres long distance running record between 1973 and 1977 and what was their association with Mill Hill.

David Bedford, he was a member of The Shaftesbury Harriers Athletic club, based at Copthall.

14. Which test match playing nation once played a friendly cricket match against Hendon and Edgware Cricket club in Mill Hill Park.

Hendon and Edgware Cricket Club played Sri Lanka, before they were a test match nation.

15. Which two men who have held the Formula One racing championship lived in the same house in Mill Hill?

Graham Hill and his son Damon both lived in Parkside, Mill Hill. This is a great documentary about one of our own

16. It is well known that Saracens RFC play at Copthall (or Allianz Park), but what were the first professional Rugby team to play their matches at Copthall Stadium.

The London Broncos  Rugby League team 1993-1995 - 
17. How many league football grounds can you get a direct train from Mill Hill Broadway Railway station to the nearest rail station and a bonus point if you can name them all.

Crystal Palace (Norwood Junction)

Note that the nearest Station to Brighton is Falmer Station and until Wimbledon move to Plough Lane, they are nearest to Norbury.

18. The North London half marathon was run for a couple of years between Saracens Stadium and what other major sports stadium.

Wembley Stadium

19. Which Snooker world Champion has his picture hanging on the wall of the Mill Hill Services club, pictured after giving a snooker exhibition?

Joe Davis, you can see a picture at the amazing Mempics site

20. What was the name of the Sports shop that was based on Mill Hill Broadway for many years?

Milletts Sports

Rog T's picture round.

21. What is this and where is it?

This is an Anderson Shelter  from World War II and is on the Darlands Trail near Burtonhole Lane, concealed in Woodlands. 

A post shared by Roger Tichborne (@rogtex) on
 22. What type of bird are these rather fine examples, spotted today

This is a Mandarin Duck

23. What bus route did the 302 replace,that formerly ran to Mill Hill? An extra point for the final destination.

The 302 replaced the 52 Bus, which terminated at Victoria

24. What year was this picture taken and what had happened the night before?

This picture was taken the day after the hurricane of 1987, in Hale Drive. 

A post shared by Roger Tichborne (@rogtex) on

25.  This building bears the name of one of the traditional Mill Hill farming families, a name borne by several roads locally, what is it?

This was Lawrence Farmhouse, where the Lawrence family lived. They gave their name to Lawrence Street, which was the original name for Mill Hill Broadway. 

26. What does this picture signify, in the words of the title song for a famous 1970's childrens show on ITV

These two Magpies, spotted on the M1 embankment by Glendor Gardens. The Magpie song says two Magpies signify "Two for joy".

27. The tweet below shows a picture of the worlds fastest non electric train passing through Mill Hill. What was it called.

This train was the Experimental Advanced Passenger Train - known as the APT-E

28. Where in Mill Hill was this picture taken?

This was taken at Mill Hill Swimming Pool in Daws Lane in 1962.

A post shared by Roger Tichborne (@rogtex) on

29. Where in Mill Hill was this picture taken?

This is the inside of John Keble Church. 

30. And finally....... I finish with a nice photo from my friend Mark Amies. When this was first built, it was a petrol station. It had a large sign that it was your last chance to do what?

K Garage had a large sign saying Last petrol before the M1. Until the M1 was extended, this was the start of the M1. When the Fiveways flyover was constructed, the route northbound  was built over and K Garage lost most of its petrol trade. 

Don't forget to check back here on Saturday for the answers.