Friday, 11 December 2009

Gordonbrock School

A very nice man gave me a flyer for the "SaveGordonbrock" website while I was enjoying a pint in the Wickham Arms.

It's likely my boy will end up there (Gordonbrock School, not the Wickham Arms - well, perhaps not yet) so I'll claim an interest.

So, to the website I went, and I also followed the debate on the Green Ladywell blog. Those opposing the plans seem to be doing so from an almost entirely aesthetic standpoint. In fact, the campaign website makes no argument beyond that of putting some nice photos of the school up and asking for the Council to leave it alone.

I am passionate about the built and historic environment, but even I need reasons other than architectural to oppose the rebuild.

My son might go here in a couple of years. I want to know whether a new school building will improve his education and that of his peers. What the Victorian Society thinks might be a consideration, but it's a very slight one.


I have not blogged for half the year. Not that anyone has missed me. Not that I expected that anyone would.

A few things have got in the way. I've moved house. From nearer the Ladywell Tavern to nearer the cemetery. This has filled many an hour, when I'm not with, T now two years' old and taking him round his manor, which extends from the tractor on Blythe Hill Fields to the train on Hilly Fields (and occasionally, the roundabout by One Tree Hill). Work is busy (although it might be about to get less busier - watch this space).

In short, I have had other things to do, but I hope to blog occasionally but more frequently in coming weeks. There's plenty to talk about. Lots happening locally, lots of places to see in coming weeks (including a welcome trip back to the West Country), lots happening politically, lots happening culturally.

Friday, 31 July 2009


The controversy at the Equality and Human Rights Commission continues to fill the column inches.

I do not claim to know what the real issues are, other than what I have read, but there are some very telling comments being made.

Take the view of outgoing commissioner Ben Summerskill that: "Trevor is a brilliant communicator . . . but he has not been successful in running the commission . . . it's an issue about old fashioned management."


A failure of management does appear to be at the root of many of the EHRC's problems, as it's audit travails and resignation of its CEO show.

But this level of management should not, if my understanding of quango operations is correct, be the day to day concern of Trevor.

Has he been sticking his nose into the affairs of officers a bit too much, or have officers not had the strategic direction and support that would empower them to do their job properly?


Has anyone else heard the cock crowing in Ladywell? I think it's somewhere up Chudleigh Road.

Thursday, 16 July 2009


Oh, Fred. Freddie. Why did it have to end like this?

Whether he was a great cricketer, or simply a very good one doesn't come into it. He's Fred. A huge, immovable lump of Englishness. A boozer, a bowler, a batsman.

I'm happily hetrosexual, but Fred's enormous frame almost excites me. Just to see him charging into bowl raises the hackles in a way I can remember no other sportsman can.

Well we ever see his like again?

Thanks for the memories, Freddie.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009


One day to go. I have - twice - been offered tickets for the first test in Cardiff. They have been turned down because the inlaws have decided to visit. This has made me very happy indeed.

With the series no longer on terrestrial TV I expect to be spending a lot of the coming weeks in pubs, but with the exception of the Coach and Horses none of the local boozers have Sky.

Perhaps the Ladywell Tavern should invest in a big screen for the duration of the summer?

For now I will console myself with the memory of one of the greatest sporting moments it has been my privilege to have seen live - Gary Pratt's run out of Ricky Ponting.

People's Day

Well, I'll be watching the Brockley Ukelele Group.

Monday, 6 July 2009

End of the Quangos

Quangos need looking at. So says David Cameron, whom, we must assume, is blissfully unaware that Maggie promised the same, and so did Blair.

New Labour's beef was the supposed anti-democratic tendencies of the quango state, and its solution was devolution. By accident or design, this is what happened, at least in Wales, where the Assembly government brought functions such as tourism and arts in house. Something similar may have happened in England, but the voters decided that they didn't want regional government.

Cameron echoes Labour's democratic argument, saying that too many quangos are responsible for making policy. He has a point, but it only goes so far. Civil servants are, in many cases, the very worst people to be solely advising on policy. The cult of the generalist, and the relatively closed world of Whitehall sees to that.

In any case, civil servants and politicians will often need to call on expert advice, and often you want that to be arms' length from the state. So I can see a case for retaining NICE, or even the Advisory Council on Historic Shipwrecks

It's interesting that the Tories have begun to attack quangos. The previous tactic of alleging public spending was not delivering service improvement has been shelved - too vulnerable to Labour charges that the Tories will cuts schools and hospitals. But they still want to reduce the tax burden and attack the government. Quangos is the key to this.

It is fraught with difficulty. Maybe not politically and in the short term. The argument resonates with the public, and that is perhaps why right wing commentators are linking quango CEOs pay and benefits with the MPs' expenses row.

But will it deliver the savings the Tories seek? Unlikely. The Tories will find they need independent advice, and that function will remain.

As for executive and regulatory agencies, the question is not whether these functions are best done by a quango or directly by local or central government. If the Tories want to see savings then the question is whether the function needs to be done at all. Hiding behind the quango issue is the decision over whether or not particular services and functions should be cut.

The quango debate is, to an extent valid. Are certain functions of the state best undertaken directly or at arms' length? That is a question about efficiency and effectiveness, and sometimes democracy too.

For all Cameron says, this is not what the Tories are about. Unable to press home the attack on public spending in the manner of their choosing, they are doing so obliquely with an assault on the quango state. Politically, this is likely to be highly successful. In reality, though, the next Tory government will get nowhere the public sector savings it dreams off through shutting some quangos. Indeed, the bleating about "efficiency savings" across government has already begun.

However it is dressed up, cuts are coming.

Banal comment of the week

Razia Iqbal on BBC news reporting on the Gormley take on the 4th Plinth:

"As the Facebook generation know, everything can be art".


Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Big fish

No, I wasn't dreaming. As walked by the Ravensbourne next to Cornmill Gardens I noticed fish somewhat bigger than usual in the water. Then I noticed there were a lot more fish than I'm used to seeing in this river.

I'm pretty sure they were trout, and as they were all struggling upstream, I wonder if they are spawning?

In any case, an impressive sight. Does anyone know if they were trout? If so, is this a recent occurence? Is the river cleaner of late?

Monday, 25 May 2009

Ladywell Fields: a house divided

Saturday afternoons are no longer filled with rugby, and I take T out.

These are busier times than my usual morning visits, and it's interesting to see how people use the park.

My usual route, established over the past year, is to enter the park by the station, take a left to look at the ducks in the river, down to the play area for the swings and slide, then up via the ship climbing frame past the cafe.

A month of doing this after lunch has confirmed as hard fact what was previously a mere impression.

More middle class families hang around by the cafe, and are less likely to venture to the play park at the bottom.

I wonder why?

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Libraries blah blah blah

Once again the metropolitan literati wade into the field of local cultural policy making. Rachel Cooke has decided that libaries are in crisis. That they are statutory services, that she trots out anecdote not evidence, that she feels she and her column could and should trump local decision making - all of this is part of that same pattern of argument which sees cultural critics think that they're expertise stretches from judging plays and books to making a call on what local services should be delivered in particular local communities.

I've made this point before, and it would be tiresome to rehearse it again - tempting though it would be to pen an extended critique of Ms Cooke's article.

Suffice to say that Rachel Cooke's statement that Andy Burnham should be more attuned to her view because he went to a state school "before Cambridge" is patronising at best and dismissively arrogant at worst.

Councillors and local service managers meet local people and users every day of the week. They know more about what people want than Rachel and her ilk can ever hope to.

They just don't have newspaper columns to give free range to their views.

Monday, 23 February 2009

An open letter to the dog owners of Brockley.

Dear Cananists (although an abusive term for Onanists may be more appropriate)

Is it beyond reason that you clean up after your dogs? In particular, what is it about the top end of Tresillian Road? Why do you insist on letting them crap there? Why do you leave it? Why do you have to let them go in the middle of the pavement?

You people are the scum of the earth. Do you know how unpleasant it is to clean it off the wheels of a buggy by hand?

Yours, ever


Thursday, 19 February 2009

Tory localism

The past couple of years have seen a near consensus amongst Tories and Labour on the rhetoric of local government. Localism and double devolution, community empowerment and negotiated priorities have dominated the discourse.

Rhetoric and reality remain largely disconnected. Labour's local government reforms have tended in the right direction, but, as Simon Jenkins pointed out in yesterday's Guardian, without devolution of financial responsibility (i.e. revenue raising powers) localism remains merely an aspiration.

For all their rhetoric, the same charge can be levelled at the Tories. Their recent Policy Green Paper, Control Shift. Returning Power to Local Communities, is a major disappointment. Its proposals are remarkably similar to the government's, and in many instances merely semantic differences. What is the tangible difference between the current duty to promote economic, environmental and social wellbeing, and the paper's proposed "power of competence"?

If the Tories really want to put clear blue water between them and Labour, they should have sought ways to devolve financial powers to local authorities. On this, the paper was silent.

Instead, the paper is a agglomeration of small scale initiatives and partisan appeals to those worried about development in their back yard (who simultaneously bemoan the lack of affordable housing) and those encouraged to fury by the Taxpayers Alliance over public sector pay. It's more partisan than might have been expected.

Tuesday saw the proposals defended by Caroline Spelman on the Today programme. She took the partisan defence of the Tory position to another level. She defended a Tory commitment to localism with the bizarre statement that as more councils were now Tory, then power could be devolved to them. In short, only Tory councils deserved more power. As well as being a strange basis for localism, this view is also profoundly undemocratic. That she made it openly begs into question her intelligence and competence (as did her assertion that Labour councils could not be trusted because of the council tax rises they posted in the 1970s - the council tax didn't exist in the 1970s).

The Tories may have begun with a meaningful commitment to localism, but it's been lost in an appeal to their core vote in the shires, a stance on devolution that flies in the face of democratic principles, and a staggering level of incompetence and ignorance on the part of the shadow secretary of state.

Control Shift is more than a missed opportunity. It's a damning indictment of Tory thinking on local government. This is perhaps one area where I genuinely thought the Conservatives might have something to offer. Sadly, it's better the devil you know.


Not sure I agree with his views, but there is another blogger on places in the West and matters Bristol Rugby.

Thursday, 5 February 2009


Added to the usual Monday stress was added snow. Snow stopped us getting to work, and snow shut the nursery. To the pressures of two of us sharing one computer, trying to deal with impending deadlines, we now had T to deal with.

After some sharp words we worked out a rota. I would take T out while my wife worked. So, with him in the backpack, we stepped outside into the heaviest snow I had seen for many years.

As we tramped up Ladywell Road I took several work calls, which did little to improve my mood, but all the time T shrieked excitedly and enthusiastically slapped the top of my head.

We stepped into the cemetery. I knew I could stand under the chapel and deal with the work calls sheltered from the thickly falling snow. A phone call or two later and it was clear that the truncated working day was going to bring irritation and frustration. I put the phone back into my pocket and looked out the snow falling across the graves.
Everything was quiet. Everything, apart from T screaming with excitement. No buses, no planes. It felt as if the snow had come down on the city as a blanket, covering the dirt, covering the litter. Above this, the snow allowed only the trees and the graves to stand, rendered somehow beautiful by the whiteness.

T and I left the cemetery and made our way up Ivy Road. It was like a country lane. On the left a high wall over which the wintry trees poked, and to our right the houses seemed somehow timeless. It was lonely, but the place felt calm and peaceful. We turned into St Cyprian's Passage and headed up to Hilly Fields.

Suddenly, the silence disappeared. Hilly Fields was crowded. Families, groups of kids, couples. Snow had kept them all from work or school, and now it was bringing them together.

The city looked different, and it was acting differently. People smiled at each other. T garnered grins and comments from passers by who would surely have put their heads down and walked by on any other day.

Sledgers clattered into each other but laughed in a way they wouldn't have done had they collided on a pavement. People stood next to the eight-foot snowman and asked strangers to take their photographs.

From the top of Hilly Fields you could see that all London was the same. You couldn't see where the city stopped and the Kent hills began. And all around you people were having fun and enjoying being with each other.
I forgot the problems at work, and walked T round the park. He laughed and shrieked all the way and cried so piteously when we get home that I took him out again after lunch, and once more before it got dark.
Sadly, he's too young to be able to remember this in years to come, but I hope it's not his last chance to be part of a day like this. I also hope that it happen for reasons other than snow.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Phil Redmond

Amongst the usual talking heads spouting arty farty crap, some clear and concise analysis from Phil Redmond as he thinks what Liz Forgan should do at the Arts Council.
For all their criticism, externally imposed targets do force institutions
to look outward, so there's a balance to be had between box office figures,
audience numbers and peer approval. There's a danger that peer approval will
drive people to be inward-looking again when actually we need to get better at
collaborating and communicating.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Birdwatching on Hilly Fields

Pent in the city, places where I can see wildlife and show it to my little boy are important to me.

To find out just how rich the urban habitat is here, take a look at the Hilly Fields Bird Champion Project blog.

I'd love to see the sparrowhawk.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Scots snob

Andrew O'Hagan made my blood boil with his possibly racist and certainly snobbish anti-English working class rant in the Guardian last week.

Tim Lott provided a perfect corrective.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009


With Bristol's season going from bad to worse, is it too much to expect that the current round of changes herald a new direction?

Are we about to see a new management team taking over, with Chris Booy as chairman? What about further investment?

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Lewisham history

My wife got the interesting A Century of Lewisham by John Coulter for Christmas. I like history, it was my degree, and I've always wanted to know about the places where I've lived. The internet makes this easier. It's surprising how much local amateur historical research is on the web.

There is a wealth of material about Lewisham to be found, but almost all of it relates to the last 100 years or so. In short, since the area became fully urban.

Is it that people are generally interested in the buildings and landscape that they can see around them (so, if you live next door to a castle or medieval church you'll want to know about that, and if it's an Edwardian terrace with bomb damage in Ladywell that will do for you) or is it that there's not much to write about Lewisham prior to 1880?

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Mayor's cultural priorities

A little late in the day, but I thought I'd react to Cultural Metropolis. The Mayor's Priorities for Culture 2009-2012. It's interesting for two reasons. Firstly and obviously, because Boris and his Director of Arts and Culture Policy set out their policies for culture in London, and secondly because - you never know - there might be hints as to what cultural policy looks like under a Conservative government.

So, what is the Tory/Boris vision of culture? It's one that is important. Boris makes the point in his Foreword that it should not be an "add on". So far, so much the same as the current government. Where the rhetoric begins to diverge is around the impact of culture. Munira Mirza's Introduction is very heavy on the importance of the economic impact. This may be a response to the recession, but it may be an echo of the old Tory concern that if the arts get subsidy, then they should pay their way.

Further divergence comes around the question of participation. Increasing this is a key plank of current government policy. It's there in Cultural Metropolis, but action does not match rhetoric. Of course the Mayor's impact is limited in this regard, but proposals such as the distribution of unused musical instruments to schools are not presented in the context of current and ongoing national initiatives. Thus, they come across as gimmicks. The notion of participation is an interesting one too, it's more of a "bums on seats" than a "create your own" view of culture.

Culture is a unifying local factor where communities come together within themselves, or with others in shared participation and creativity. This is referred to in passing, but with oblique statements about how community level activity is mired in red tape. This could be a laissez faire view (if so, it's wrong, culture is one of the least regulated areas of public activity, no matter what artists say)

How to pay for culture is a problem, and Cultural Metropolis berates national government for the "lottery raid" ahead of the Olympics (neatly ignoring that much of this money will be ploughed back into London). It also exhorts local government to maintain levels of funding, particularly to local museums and archives (where Tory authorities have often been the worst offenders). This represents one of the weaknesses of the strategic remit of the Mayor and GLA, but it also might reflect an unwillingness on the part of Conservative policy makers to maintain or increase subsidy.

There are a couple of well ridden hobby horses trotting through the document. Munira on multiculturalism, and Boris is obviously concerned that the lower orders aren't getting enough Plato with an appeal to widen teaching of Classics for London children.

So, what does Cultural Metropolis tell us? That the main difference between Labour and the Tories is a shift to seeing economic impact as the key instrumental benefit of culture. That there is less of an emphasis on participation for social and community ends. Greater emphasis on getting people in to see "high" culture rather than supporting them in defining and creating their own locally. Less importance placed upon diversity and multiculturalism.

Alongside this there is a uncertainty over the policy instruments to attain this. Others are exhorted to maintain funding, gimmicks rather than substantive delivery shifts are proposed.

Boris's priorities are very different from Ken's. No ethnically-specific festivals, no Mayor's Commission on African and Asian Heritage. He knows what we wants, but it will take him a little more time to decide how to get it. Boris needs to work out how to manage the relationship with the boroughs on the one hand, and on the other with central government, which funds most of the cultural powerhouses in the capital. We must wait for the Cultural Strategy to see how he will do this.

As for Tory cultural policy more broadly, I expect that Cultural Metropolis reflects the general position of the Cameron Conservatives. They, like the mayor, consider themselves cultured and will not be the avowedly philistine Thatcherites. They will have clear views about what they want and I imagine they will chime with Boris's. Like him, though, it will take them time to work out how they want them delivered.

With the economy dominating all, they will be long on vision and short on actualities. I suspect it will be two years into any future Conservative government before we really see what culture under the Tories looks like.

Tufted duck

The weir on on the Ravensbourne has been repaired, and the river again flows through Ladywell Fields. With a much deeper pool behind the weir people walking in the park or across the bridge to the hospital can now see a greater than usual number of ducks. Amongst the usual mallards yesterday was a rather impressive (if solitary) tufted duck.