Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Save Barnet Diving - Support the campaign this Thursday

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The Barnet Copthall Diving club
The #SaveBarnetDiving Team have 5minute slot at the Meeting of Barnet Council at Hendon Town Hall to put our Petition points across at 7pm on Sept 1st 2016. We would love to see you there to support us! Please do let us know if you can attend. Thank you.

Sign the petition to #SaveBarnetDiving help our #divers of the future reach the #olympics 

Details of the event on Facebook

This is a cause close to my heart. My daughter was a member of the Barnet Diving club. She was also a national swimming champion on several occasions thanks to the efforts of Barnet Copthall.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Who can afford to live in Mill Hill?

I recently noticed that a fairly ordinary house in my road was on the market for over £1 million. I was quite shocked. I bought my house from my parents in 1987 and apart from a spell 1981-1987 have always lived there.

When I was a kid, the road was inhabited with families. We'd play in the street, go to the park and be in and out of each other's homes. Our mums would feed whoever turned up. All of the houses have gardens. These would host football, tennis, volleyball and frisbee games. My friends parents were teachers, nurses, sailors, accountants, builders, doctors and mechanics. 

We were ethnically diverse for the time. There were Irish families, Indian families, Jewish families, South American families and probably a few others. None of our parents were what one may consider rich. Most had mortgages at 3 times their salary.

I cannot imagine any of the professions above being able to support a £1 million mortgage so what future do our children have, if they want to stay local? I don't want Mill Hill to become a gated enclave for the rich. I believe gardens are good for children, but the rabbit hutch flats going up all over Barnet have none. They simply will create a generation of unhealthy, Internet addicted, consumerised slobs. It is a tragedy.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Rog T's Cancer blog - HIFU six months on

For those of you who are regular readers and have read the previous posts on Cancer, you can skip this first paragraph. I write this blog because knowledge is power and if you know what you are dealing with, you have more weapons in the locker to fight it. It is a personal view, I'm not medically qualified. This is for the sole purpose of information for those who are interested. This is the latest installment in my occasional series about how I'm adjusting to living with a big C in my life.  For those of you who aren't, here's a quick summary. I'm 53 years old and in October 2011 I  had a prostate biopsy following two "slightly high" PSA tests - 2.8 & 4.1. The biopsy took ten tissue samples and one of these showed a "low grade cancer" which gave me a 3+3 on the Gleason scale. I'm now on a program of active monitoring.  In early February, I got the results of the a PSA test - down to 3.5 and an MRI scan which found absolutely nothing, two more tests in 2012 were at 3.5 and 3.9, in 2013 my test was 4.0, Jan 2014 was 3.8, August 2014 was 4.0,  February 2015 it was  up to 5.5  and my latest in August 2015 was down again at 4.6. In October 2015 I had a transperinial Prostate biopsy, that revealed higher grade cancer and my Gleason score was raised to 3+4 (Small mass + more aggressive cancer), albiet with small mass. On 22nd Jan 2016 I had HIFU (Hi Intensity Focused Ultrasound) treatment at UCHL). My post procedure PSA in May was 4.0 which was down, which means that the direction is positive . I've no symptoms and sadly for a few people, if I'm gonna die soon, it won't be from Prostate cancer. Got the picture?

It is now six months since I had the HIFU procedure and this week I had my six monthly consult. This was done by telephone. Part of this process was to fill in a long questionaire about my plumbing. If you are not interested in this, skip the rest of this paragraph. As I am participating in a clinical trial of the HIFU procedure, it is important for them to collate statistics. So amongst the questions I was asked - How many pads a day do I use for incontinence. I am pleased to say the answer is none. I wasn't incontinent before the procedure and I am not now. It also asked several questions about sexual function. Can I maintain an erection, can I have sex with out taking viagra, can I have sexual intercourse. None of these were problematical before the procedure and none are now. This information is used to collate statistics and the people who are being offered HIFU are given the percentages of people who have not had an impairment of these functions.

The next aspect they check is the PSA level. This was 4.0 in May and has fallen again to 3.7, which again is positive. I was informed that I'll have an MRI scan in Jan/Feb as a follow up. So all in all medically the procedure looks to have been successful. It is worth mentioning that the procedure did not remove all of the cancerous tissues. The process was targetted at the more aggressive cancer that was present in the lower left hand quadrant of the prostate. This had a gleason score of 3+4. This did not address the issue of the "low grade" cancers that are 3+3 and present elsewhere in the prostate. The view of the HIFU team is that these are not worth addressing and can be monitored via PSA tests etc. It is very much a quality of life argument. If I was incontinent and did not have an active sex life, I'd probably have opted for a radical prostatectimy but at age 54 I was not ready for the likely side effects of impotence, incontinence and infertility. 

But as I've mentioned, there is another side to the story. How have I been feeling generally. For the first three months following the procedure I was very tired and felt lethargic. I scaled back on many of my working and life commitments. I have written far less blogs this year and put far less efforts into the blog. Thats not to say I don't take it seriously, but I've not had the energy to sit up till 3am every night researching the effects of the latest council policy. I am quite pleased that despite this, I've still managed to be influential in shaping events, especially with the Freedom Pass debacle. 

I've also had to take the foot off the gas slightly with my music interests. I had hoped to have released the False Dots long awaited album by now, but just having the energy to give what it needs has proven illusive. I would say that following our summer holidays to Thailand and Lourdes, I'm now more or less back to where I want to be. I want to lose some weight, this is recommended for people with low grade prostate cancers. I'm making some effort to drink far less (not always successfully).

I think that like many people, I've found 2016 to be a very difficult year. The deaths of Bowie, Lemmy, Ali etc all have been difficult to take. It would have been a rotten year even without having to undergo treatment for cancer! whilst I know for some it is the best thing since sliced bread, the fact that IMHO my fellow countrymen have voted for Brexit and those in America have decided to select Donald Trump as a presidential candidate really makes me fear for the future. I'm not saying this to be political but as someone with children, I want to leave them a life on a safe and secure planet, where they have a good life and great future. For me (and I accept others feel different), both of these things are a big worry. They say that stress can play a big part in triggering cancers. whilst neither of these events are at present genuinely stressfull, I do worry where they will lead us in a few years.

Being confronted with your own mortality does focus the mind! I'm 54 and my ambition is to live until I'm 108, so I'm half way through my expected life. I fully expect medical science to have got to grips with cancer in the next 20-30 years (assuming as a race we don't destroy ourselves). I take the view that so long as I'm sensible I will beat this, with some help from the NHS! So I am in a positive frame right now. So all in all, I guess that as six month checks go, it's a pretty good one.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

The Tweets of the week in the London Borough of Barnet

Here it is again, our most popular regular weekly feature. What's been going on in our neck of the woods through the eyes of the local twits?

1. We all love to start with a happy ending - Get your mog microchipped!

2. Fancy a bit of Tai Chi

3. Fancy a bit of Folk?

4. Now this is a new one on me, but a deffo follow. Automated river level tweets for Deansbrook!

5. Save Barnet Diving is the big story around these parts right now.

6. Do you follow your local radio station? We do!

7. Nice piccie of Totteridge from John Keough
8. Now this tweet from Suze is truly intrigiung

9. One for all our friends in Hampstead village!
10. And of course I must give this a big plug!

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Why Frederick Forsyth is talking rubbish about NHS investment

One of my favourite columnists is Federick Forsyth in the Daily Express every Friday. Unlike the inane babble spouted by most tabloid celebrity columnists, who have dull lives and merely peddle tittle tattle, Fred has lead an interesting life and has plenty to say. I don't agree with most of his politics, but he makes interesting and well argued points and can bring a wealth of experience and anecdotes to support his views. This week however he demonstated that he really doesn't understand government or running a business. In his column, under the title "Doublespeak Politicians just love to 'invest' " he betrays a fundamental failure to appreciate what the govt is supposed to do with our money. He says

HAVE you noticed that politicians and most especially Left-wingers never mention the word “spending” when they unveil their economic plans? Thus Jeremy Corbyn, in a long, recent list of proposals, managed to blow several hundred billion pounds on the “investments” he would like to make if, heaven forbid, he ever actually got into power. 
Let’s be frank. If you really invest, the money remains yours and you can retrieve it when you want unless you have been daft enough to sign away your right to do that. And invested money provides a “yield” or “return on investment” – the ROI – which is the point of wise investment. But when it is spent, it’s gone. 
Thus, you cannot “invest” in the NHS. So billions are spent on it. OK, it’s a good expenditure to provide a nationwide healthcare service free at the point of delivery. But it is not an investment. We are never going to see it back or get an annual dividend dropping on to the doormat. 
Mind you, we live in a world of euphemisms, platitudes and smarmy untruths. 
Perhaps someone should create a parallel dictionary: what big business, advertisers, officialdom and politicians tell you and what it really means in plain English. It would be quite a big lexicon because what is said and what it really means is very rarely the same nowadays.

Mr Forsyth states "You cannot invest in the NHS" on the grounds "invested money provides a yield or return on investment". Sadly Fred really hasn't thought this through. There are three ways in which his statement is factually incorrect. First, there are many opportunities for investment in the NHS which will produce a yield for the taxpayer. Mr Forsyth should know better than anyone that technology is always offering investment opportunities, to increase efficiency in the way we do things. I will give one example. Fifty years ago the process of taking X-Rays was done by large departments. All of the results were stored on film and there was a huge requirement for a library system for the prints. These had to be kept for decades so comparisons etc could be performed. Modern technology means they are now digitised. This frees up land, reduces the number of staff required to run X Ray departments and means they cost far less to run. As the government funds this process, the investment in new equipment has produced a very real and tangible return for the taxpayer as the they have to levy less tax to pay for X rays. This process has been repeated in every part of the NHS. Had the governement not invested in this modernisation and we still used the 1950's way of doing things the NHS would cost many billions more to run.

The second way in which the NHS delivers a return for the government is when investment in new treatments mean that people who were previously unable to work are able to be treated and return to contributing to the economy. The NHS is just one strand of the UK economy, the government is responsible for the whole thing. It is true that the NHS is largely a cost centre, but it is a necessary one as it keeps the population fit and in good shape for work. This lowers the bill for disability benefits. I am a living example of how this works. Since 2011, I've been under the care of the NHS for cancer. In January I had a new treatment for prostate cancer, which has only been available for 4 years. The treatment is non invasive and thus far the results are good. By investing in screening and development of such treatments, people like me don't get ill with cancer and have to live on benefits at huge cost to the taxpayer. I have a friend who recently had stents for a chrnic heart condition. Twenty years ago he'd be living on cardiac drugs or even dead. If he was dead, the taxpayer would be picking up the bill for his family. Lowering the tax bill by having lower levels of chronic illness is a great example. Perhaps the greatest return on investment has been for immunisation programs that have eliminated diseases such as polio, measles and mumps. Improvements in osbstetrics have also massively reduced the number of problems with births. These have contributed massively to reducing the cost of running the nation. If this is not a wise investment, I've no idea what is.

The third way in which investment in the NHS produces a dividend is perhaps the most obvious, even for someone like Fred, who clearly doesn't get business. The NHS is continually developing and pioneering new treatments. Once these have been perfected, they are then licensed and sold around the world. The UK is a centre of excellence and doctors come from all over the world to learn about the innovations we provide. This generates huge amounts of money for the GDP.

Fred Forsyth says that because we won't get a dividend check through the door, it is wrong to define it as an investment. I couldn't disagree more. The dividend check is paid in the way the NHS is continually using technology to develop new treatments, to make more people well again and that citizens of the UK pay less money than any other developed nation for first class medical care. 

There are all manner of reasons someone will invest. Some people invest to recieve a big dividend check. Some people invest in companies, because they know that there won't be dividends for years (even decades) but the company is developing producst that will make the share value rocket (early google investors are an example of this). Then there are people who invest in shares to get a shareholder benefit. For years I held shares in The Restaurant Group. They gave every shareholder 12 vouchers a year that gave them 30% off the full price of a meal for up to 12 people. As the restarants like Frankie and Bennys, Chiquito and Blubeckers were favourites of my family and kids, my £1000 investment was recovered in 2 years of savings on family nights out. For me the best "shareholder benefit" of the NHS is that I am still alive and you really can't get a better benefit than that!

Friday, 26 August 2016

The Friday Joke - 26/08/2016

Have a great weekend!

Arthur is 90 years old.

He's played golf every day since his retirement 25 years ago.

One day he arrives home looking downcast.

That's it,"  he tells his wife. "I'm giving up golf. My eyesight has got so bad. Once I've hit the ball, I can't see where it went."

His wife sympathises. As they sit down, she has a suggestion: "Why don't you take my brother with you, and give it one more try."

"That's no good," sighs Arthur. "Your brother is 103. He can't help."

"He may be 103," says the wife, "but his eyesight is perfect."

So the next day, Arthur heads off to the golf course with his brother-in-law. 

He tees up, takes an almighty swing, and squints down the fairway.

He turns to the brother-in-law. "Did you see the ball?"

"Of course I did!", says the brother-in-law. "I have perfect eyesight."

"Where did it go?" asks Arthur.

"Can't remember."

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Has One Barnet changed Barnet Council for residents?

I spent years fighting the One Barnet outsourcing project. Despite a huge battle and a court case, the Barnet Conservatives got there way. Now Capita and a host of other private companies have taken over the majority of council fiunctions, have you, as a local, noticed.

Over the past month, I've seen and spoken to a whole host of people who have had dealings with the councils private contractors for issues such as parking disputes, planning applications, freedom pass issues and business rates issues. What has their experience been?

Planning. I know of two cases where the council have taken well over twice the stated 8-13 weeks to grant straightforward planning permissions. Both are for businesses and both will generate jobs. In one case, the application, submitted in December has just had a request for basic information, which was supplied on the original form in December, after a period of 13 weeks with no contact at all. If this is what happens for simple matters such as moving loading bays and rebuilding derelict industrial property, it will massively damage the local economy.

Freedom passes. It is now clear that Capita made a monumental mistake in withdrawing them for hundreds of vulnerable and disabled people. Sadly the council has not had a public inquiry into how such an awful policy could be implemented by a private contractor without public debate or oversight. This was a primary objection raised by opponents and sadly we've been proven right.

Parking. My sister in law was bullied into paying a parking fine, which she should never have been issued, by the councils private contractor. A review of the audio tape of the conversation proves the contractor mislead her.

Local businesses report that Capita are using there own bailiffs as a standard tactic to harass businesses in rates disputes. Previously bailiffs were only called in when amicable solutions were untenable. This has lead to major costs and stress for small businesses trading on a difficult environment.

I hear stories like these all the time. When will our local politicians admit One Barnet is failing local people?

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Map of Middlesex inc Mill Hill, Colindale, Edgware from 1695

Ever wondered what our neighbourhood looked like in 1695? I spotted and snapped this map. Some of the spellings are interesting. As you can see the main road in Edgware was the Edgware Road, originally built by the Romans. In Mill Hill it was The Ridgeway. Hope you enjoy it. Click on map for more readable version.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Time to reform the honours system

As our Olympic squad return victorious from Rio, there is talk of an avalanche of honours for the team. I fully back this proposal. The likes of Mo Farrar show us just what hard work and dedication can achieve. The team have brought us much joy and merriment and that deserves recognition.

I do however believe the system requires a shake up. Firstly many honours have ridiculous names. There is no British Empire. When there was, for hundreds of millions of people it stood for a highly undemocratic and elitist system. If I was an immigrant from a commonwealth country, I'd feel very conflicted to be given a gong celebrating this awful historic legacy. Why not simply change the E in gongs to the word Excellence. 

A gong should celebrate supreme achievement or dedication. This would reflect its prestige far better than a gong celebrating a defunct and failed form of imperialism.

Further more I'd ban gongs for political cronies, donors and lackeys. The system would be well shot of these. I have no problem with senior ex politicians being given gongs, but I resent political failure being rewarded with a seat in the upper house. This chamber should be elected..

It is time for the UK to become a modern, fully democratic country that recognises excellence, rewards success and moves away from its dark, imperial legacy.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Happy Birthday to Me!!!!

Today is my 54th birthday, so todays blog is just a little bit of a personal reflection. I tend to go big on birthdays, I have a birthday week! It started on Thursday with a few beers with friends up at the Chandos Arms. I will probably conclude it in similar manner next Thursday. But I guess you'll be pleased to hear that this isn't going to be about my celebration plans. I guess that regular readers will have noticed I can be a little OCD at times, I like making lists (I try and do one here every Saturday). I found that making lists is a very good way of dealing with things. It all started when I was a small child. My eldest brother Laurie, who is sixteen years older than me used to delight in teasing me, winding me up and stealing my pocket money. Nothing delighted him more than if he could set me up so I performed a terrible act and got a good hiding from my Dad. At one stage when I was about six or seven years old, I was so pissed off at him, that I was quite depressed about it all.

My parents had a very good friend who was an elderly Priest, who used to visit regularly for a glass of scotch. I considered him the font of all knowledge. So I asked him the question "Fr Traynor, what should you do if your brother upsets you all the time?". He replied that one of the Lords Disciples said that his brother had wronged him 7 times, how many times should he forgive him. Jesus replied, if he has wronged you 7 times, then you should forgive him 77 times. So I started the list "number of times Laurie has upset me"

1. Locked me in the toilet when Thunderbirds was on telly, whilst giving a running commentary
2. Hung me upside down and stolen my pocket money
3. Hung a large rock on a washing line and told me to pull a chord, so it demolished the new wall my Dad had built (whilst telling my Dad to come and see what I was doing)
4. Stolen the money I'd been saving to buy a Scalextrix set for fags.
5. Locked me in the outside toilet
6. Gave me a salted plum and told me it was a sweet

And so it went on. The good news is that there are only ten more infractions to go before the Lord says I can take my revenge. The bad news is that I'm supposed to be an adult now, so if I was to lock Laurie in the bog and steal his wages, I'd doubt that I'd be able to cite my list as mitigation. I suppose that for those of you who aren't familair with the dynamics of large families (I'm the youngest of six), there are generally a whole set of disputes, wind ups, antagonisms running throughout childhood. It is also fair to say that Laurie also did many really nice things, such as buying me a fish tank with a catfish in, introduced me to 1960's psychedelic rock music, taught me a few really cool chord progressions on the guitar, etc. Strangely I never made a list of those though.

When I look at the list now, it is actually quite amusing (I am sure Laurie would find it bleeding hilarious). Perhaps the funniest thing is watching my handwriting develop. Being dyslexic it was absolutely atrocious at the start. These days it is just bloody awful. I find that making lists has been really beneficial for my blogging career. I have all sorts of lists of things to refer to. By ordering things and keeping them listed, if people say things to me like "all bloggers do is complain and they don't achieve anything", I can pull out a list of our achievements. It is a point of fact that without bloggers, the Metpro scandal would never have been exposed. This has saved the Barnet Taxpayer millionsof £££'s. Likewise the Freedom pass scandal would never have come to light. Although there are many campaigns which bloggers have had a major role in, these two are unarguably completely down to the efforts of bloggers to expose and they are the two that I am proudest to have had a role in exposing. I suppose it is ironic that something that started with being locked in the toilet when Thunderbirds was on, ended up saving disabled people from having their freedom passes illegally withdrawn. I'm immensely proud of what I've acheived through the blog. I'm also immesely grateful that so many people have read and continue to read the blog. This has been demonstrated by the recent campaign to Preserve the Railway in Edgware. Within two days of this blog highlighting the story, we had over 500 signatures on the petition.

My mum was a notorious hoarder. She kept all of our old school books. I was amused to read in one old "news" book, I'd listed my ambitions for adulthood to be to have a pond and a dog. I have spectacularly overachieved as I have two dogs and two ponds. I must say that there are few pleasures greater than sitting by the pond, with the doggies running around, whilst playing my guitar. I'm lucky to be blessed with a great wife, great children and lovely doggies. I also enjoy my work life. I was never someone who was massively ambitious financially, but I am extraordinarily passionate about music. This was a gift from my brother Laurie. My eldest brothers are twins. They were a musical inspiration. When they were teenagers, both wanted electric guitars. My Dad's response was that they could make their own, which they both did. Both are talented guitarists and it is always a pleasure listening to them jamming. They were both big on skiffle, the British forerunner of rock and roll. I always thought playing guitar was a tremendously cool thing to do. I was however constrained in my early teens by a complete lack of aptitude and confidence. However the avent of Punk rock and Mark Perry's invocation to learn three chords and form a band chimed. That was exactly what I did. I also completely got the politics of Punk Rock. My school experiences had made me rather anti establishment, and this meant that I had a natural affinity for punk in all of its forms.

I started writing songs, intitally all were about politics and were rather crude. After about a year, myself and my song writing partner, Pete Conway realised that the songs were rubbish. We checked them all away and started again. We tried to write proper, interesting songs, with stories and tunes. But we also wanted to get the message over as well. The requirement for rehearsal space, lead to me starting Mill Hill Music Complex. This eventually lead to me contacting the local press and building a relationship with them, to try and promote local bands and music. This lead to my blog at The Barnet Times. For reasons I can't fathom, this didn't develop into a music blog as I'd intended, but into a highly controversial blog about local politics. Interestingly initially my antagonist was the now disgraced, but then powerful local politician Brian Coleman.  It is interesting to note that we are roughly the same age, but unlike me he didn't have a big brother to wind him up or help him develop a love of music. Maybe that is where he went wrong?

Anyway, in my reflective mood, I realise just how important the influence of my big bruv has been in becoming Barnets most popular blogger! So maybe I'll buy him a Guinness later!

Sunday, 21 August 2016

The Tweets of the week in the London Borough of Barnet - 21/08/2016

What has been inspiring the twits of Barnet? This is our pick of the week. People have asked me what criteria I use for this selection. The answer is simple, if a tweet makes me laugh, cry or I think there are a few people who might find it interesting, it gets considered. Then I try my best to put them into some sort of order.

1. This was the tweet that stated a campaign, that has generated over 600 signatures in four days and received widespread coverage in the local press and blogs. Well done to Mark Amies, a good friend of this blog

2.And we'd also like to pay tribute to some of the volunteers for one of our finest local charities!

3. And at TheBarnet Eye we are rather keen on doggies!

4.A reminder from the Assistant Director at The RAF museum of our local heritage

5. A classic view of Edgware tube station when it opened. I love these tweets
6. One of the finer spots in Finchley. The late great Spike Milligans bench!

7. Calling all local businesswomen, got some time free tomorrow night?

8. Lets celebrate our local Olympic heritage. A fine blue plaque in Golders Green
9. The big story in Mill Hill was the occupation of Mill Hill Park by a group of travellers

10. And watch out for Londons finest studios on Barnet TV!!!

Friday, 19 August 2016

"She was asking for it" - A guide for idiotic males on sexual protocol

A couple of days ago, I overheard a rather disturbing conversation on the train home from a nights drinking. As the father of a teenage girl, I thought I'd impart some helpfl advice for confused men, who clearly don't really understand sexual protocol.

There were several sweaty, middle aged men, who'd clearly been even more liberal in drink than I had been, who were somewhat worse for wear. They boarded with me at Farringdon. At St Pancras, a group of teenager girls alighted. Amongst this group, most were taking advantage of a warm summer night to wear a rather minimal amount of clothing. They too were raucously inebriated and clearly having a rather good time.

As the train progressed the group of males made several loud comments and the girls moved away. One of them then stated "They are asking for it, going out dressed like that". I am not quite sure what they were asking for, but I am pretty sure that what they weren't asking for was sexual attention from a group of rather fat and ugly sweaty males.

So I thought I'd set out a little list of what is asking for it and what isn't.

Examples of asking for it.

1. If a woman comes up to you and invites you to have consensual sex, she is asking for it.

Examples of not asking for it.

1. Wearing clothes that make her look atractive.
2. Being out with friends and displaying a happy demeanour.
3. Being on her own and vulnerable.
4. Any other activity that does involve her inviting consensual sex.

Of course there are times when men genuinely misread the signals. A big clue is when a woman says "Please stop doing this" or similar words. If a lewd comment results in a woman moving away, you have been an arse. Personally I want my daughters to be able to enjoy life without hassle. I think that is the least any human being should expect.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Save The Railway Campaign - Huge response to petition

MOn Tuesday we posted a blog about Mark Amies petition to Save The Railway pub in Edgware. This magnificent mock Tudor Inn has been left to rot and recently had a small fire which caused some damage to the fabric of the building. It is a grade II listed building and a much loved cornerstone of Edgware High Street. The petition has received a huge response, picking up over 550 signatures in two days. The Edgware Times has also picked up the story and given us a namecheck.

If you haven't signed the petition, please do ASAP. We are going to be presenting it to English heritage and the more support we can show for the pub, the better. Lets get it up to 1,000 so please post on facebook and tell your friends.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Time to bring back British Rail

First the good news, my train this morning, the 07:17 was only six minutes late arriving. I even got a seat between West Hampstead and Farrringdon! Result!

But as a regular commuter between Mill Hill and London, what has privatisation bought? When Thameslink was introduced, there were 8 rush hour services per hour from Mill Hill Broadway to London, 4 fast and 4 slow. Now there are 5 or six, most of which are jam packed.

The cost has spiralled out of all proportion. We are told it is to pay for investment, but huge sums are payed in subsidies to private companies, which goes straight to shareholders, mostly of foreign companies, such as Arriva who run Thameslink.

On my journey in this morning through Cricklewood, I saw new Hitachi trains parked next iInter City 125's, the British Rail designed and built workhorses of the railways, which are 40 years old. The 125's were a huge success, but privatisation meant the Uk has lost the ability to design and build such iconic trains.

On Sunday I had lunch with a signalman. He explained the complex rules that apply when delays occur. They are not designed to help passengers, they are designed to ensure that the companies who pay most see their train go first, and are implemented to ensure Network Rail pay the minimum in fines.

It is high time the government admitted privatisation has been a disaster and calls time on the failed experiment. Bring back BR!

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Save The Railway in Edgware

A good friend  of this blog , Mark Amies,has started a petitio to Save The Railway pub in Edgware. The former pub has been rotting for several years and recently was damaged by fire. Please sign this petition to help preserve this iconic grade 2 listed landmark. Please share this with your friends

The petition reads as follows

The Railway Hotel in Station Road, Edgware is a fine mock Tudor building built in the 1920s. It closed in the early 2000's and has remained boarded up and unloved since. Last month there was an arson attack which left a portion of the ground floor ruined. The Railway Hotel has has several owners since last year. The feeling amongst local people is that a developer wants e site to build more apartment blocks on, as it sits amongst other derelect sites. Ironically the Railway Hotel has a listed status, however it continues to be under great risk. Please help to petition Historic England to properly protrct The Railway Hotel and find an owner who will restore it and put it into use for the public.

Save Our Local Heritage!!!

Monday, 15 August 2016

HCPT Group 560 - A week to change your life

I was away last week. Regular long term readers of the blog will know that most years, I go as a helper with HCPT group 560 to Hosanna House in Bartres, France for a week. The group enables people with various disabilities to visit the shrine of Lourdes in France. As a helper, I am there to ensure that everyone in the group has the best week possible. It is very hard to describe exactly what the week is like. The setting is absolutely stunning, this is the view that greeted me when I awoke every morning.
The view for breakfast
There is strong emphasis on building a feeling of belonging to the group. On the first full day we have a briefing. Helen, who has cerebral Palsy and uses an electric wheelchair and has come for many years gave us a rousing team talk. Helen is an inspiration, living independently in her own flat despite the issues that confront her. She was pleased to see me, and tell me how she'd visited South Africa for an extended holiday earlier in the year. Several years ago I asked Helen what she enjoyed about out group. She told me that it was because we didn't think adults who had disabilities, but were fully mentally competent were interested in basket weaving as a leisure activity. Within our group, there are some talented musicians (and myself) and music, humour and telling stories is a huge part of the package. The first time I went with our group, back in 2001, I went primarily to "do my bit helping other people". To my surprise, the person who benefitted most was probably me. The reason was that the previous Xmas,my mother had had a major stroke and I was having problems dealing with the reality of her disability. By the end of that trip, I'd realised just how lukcy my mum was. I also realised that there was no reason she couldn't come with us, which she did the next time I went im 2004. She went a further three times. After she passed away in 2008, I took my cousin Theresa, who has Downs Syndrom three times. Sadly Theresa can no longer travel.

Helen briefs the group
The two lessons were that the biggest challenge the disabled have is the attitudes of the rest of us. The second lesson was disability doesn't diminish our humanity. I would urge anyone to volunteer as a helper with a group such as ours. You may wonder about the religious aspect, clearly if  a group is going to Lourdes, having a degree of faith is probably helpful, although not compulsory. Ever since 2006, I've had at least one of my children with me. They are not religious, but volunteer to come as they get a lot out of the experience. On one occasion, my daughter was accompanied by a school friend who was Jewish. After we returned, he told me he thought it was a hugely positive experience. It helped him to understand his own faith and to also get a fresh perspective on life. Of course some of us would be put off by this. I'd say that if this is how youy feel, then why not checkout volunteering with a secular charity that takes disabled people on holiday. It is a really good way of learning to understand teamwork and cooperation. It also makes you value the gifts you have. For me HCPT works. Within our group, the mix is probably 50% Roman Catholic and 50% of other/no denomination. Most return, because it is rare that people don't get anything from the experience. There are no activities that are compulsory, so you are not compelled to do anything (apart from make sure the people you are helping are safe and happy).

Night time activities
As to the type of things you do as a helper. For me I was rooming with a chap who simply needed to be pushed when we went out. Apart from that he was fine. My daughter and a friend also came this time. They roomed with a teenage girl with Downs Syndrome. This was the second time she'd been with this young lady and the friendship they've built is a joy to behold. My son also came. He didn't room with someone who needed helping, but was involved in early morning tea duties, pushing people in wheelchairs, setting tables and assisiting people in the bathroom etc. Our group had two nurses, who were on hand to assist with any medical issues.

As a fit helper, you have to do a lot of pushing people in wheelchairs!

One of the mistakes we make is to make assumptions about people with disablities. One of our group, Katie, who has cerebal palsy, graduated last year. For her, she felt that passing a degree course was vital, as she believes that it is vital to prove that there is no reason why people in her situation should be overlooked from partaking in a full education. She is now far better educationally qualified than I am, so I think she's got nothing to prove.

And we don't tuck people up early and then go to the pub!

One of the best things for me was a week with limited access to social media. I didn't look at Twitter at all for most of the week. I was too busy and where we did have wireless access, I was desperately trying to read important emails. I'd recommend a social media detox for all!

I must also mention the food. As we were in France and the house team are French, the food was absolutely fantastic. As I don't do dairy, sadly I missed out on the cheeses and some amazing looking desserts. Lunch was two courses and dinner three. There was an ample supply of wine to be taken with dinner (sadly as I was on driving duty on occasion, I couldn't always partake as HCPT rules are no alcohol when driving).

A lot of table tennis was played as well, a lot of guitars were strummed, a lot of songs sung and a lot of fun was had. Our group has a tradition of a talent show on the last night. As ever it was hilarious. My contribution was to lead a group performing the Ewan MacColl. I was lucky enough to have Margaret singing and Fr Pat playing the tin whistle line one the recorder! I was determined that my song wouldn't suffer the same fate as the previous year, when Gordon, who has cerebal palsy, dismissed my rendition of  Perfect Day by Lou Reed as "RUBBISH!".  My son used his slot as a perfect opportunity to wind both myself and my friend Paul up as best he could, much to the amusement of the wider group.

You may wonder what sort of people volunteer? Our group had a fascinating mix of people, a couple of actresses, a former head of light entertainment at ITV (I think that was the role), a retired professional sportsman/commentator, a banker, some teachers and some retired teachers, a few teenagers at school/uni, a policeman, a trainee CofE vicar, a couple of C priests, a retired doctor and me (apologies if I missed anyone). As a group, I think we bonded pretty well. This was the 11th time I've been with the group, but I am still learning things. I always come back feeling recharged. This has been a difficult year for me personally. In January, regular readers will know I had a procedure to treat my Prostate cancer. One of the questions which one of me rather cynical mates asked was whether I was going "to get a miracle". For me, I'm not interested in miraculous cures. The thought never crossed my mind. Of all the disabled peopel I've spoken to, who have ever been with our group, only one ever went seeking a miracle cure. Sadly he was disappointed. For me, the people who really need the miracle are those of us who have got so obsessed with the goodies on offer in our materialistic world, that we miss the great things we get for free. These are love, friendship, the natural beauty in the world and the joy of sharing meals and a drink with friends. We are si obsessed with "stuff" that we overlook these. I consider the biggest blessing I have in life is that I appreciate this and my weeks in Lourdes, remind my of the gifts I do have.

As a little footnote, I got back to find the Olympics in full flow. We had no telly at all for a week, so it had largely passed me by for week one. An interesting thought occurred to me. Elite atheletes are bringing us huge pride and joy with there efforts, honed with years of training. The Olympics really are a truly wonderous celebration of human achievement. I do however think that the challenges some of my disabled friends have to surmount every day pale them into insignificance. Imagine if every single thing did, getting up, going to bed, eating, going to the toilet, washing and even cleaning your teeth, required a helper (or two).  If every person you met assumed you were an idiot, because of the way you look. If every new person you met talked to you in a childish voice and asked you to repeat yourself six times as they didn't understand you. To put up with that and still be cheerful and good fun is perhaps a supreme achievement.

Please note that all comments/views expressed here are personal and in no way reflect the views/ethos of HCPT or anyone else apart from me. Some names have been changed for privacy.