Friday, 31 July 2009

The Friday Fungus - Ergot!

When I set out to talk about my fascination with mushrooms I didn't envisage straying into the wider reaches of the myco-world. But talking about good food without talking about moulds (or molds) is to miss out on some of the magic that fungi bring to our lives! Without moulds and yeasts we wouldn't have Stilton or Roquefort, we wouldn't have risen bread or beer and we'd be dropping dead from diseases we currently treat with fungus-derived anti-biotics.

Until a few day ago I know little beyond the fact that moulds and yeasts existed and were very important parts of the overall ecosystem.

"...fungi have happy lives in dark or light places as they digest simple organic foods like paper, cardboard, glues and starch. They are helpful when they digest logs, twigs and leaves, produce antibiotics or help make cheeses."

So moulds are a good thing? Well yes and no - as well as the good guys helping us with getting drunk, turning milk into cheese and treating our ailments, there are also bad guys. These problem moulds include ergot, mildew, athlete's foot and the carcinogenic Aspergilla moulds.

Ergot (Claviceps purpurea) is especially interesting since it illustrates both the good and the bad of fungal moulds - it is the cause of lethal (and madness-inducing) ergotism, the source for LSD and a valuable resource for pharmaceutical research. Plus many ergot derived drugs have a profound sexuality-enhancing effect - not a surprise since ergot was (rather riskily) used as a sexual drug from ancient times. The fungus was also used to promote miscarriage - in effect for abortion.

Ergot is also suggested as a factor behind episodes of mass hallucination such as the Salem Witch trials as well as underlying the origins of revolutionary actions (e.g. The Great Fear in France).

So there you are - ergot, one little mould that infects rye, millet and sorghum has had a really profound impact on human history, health and questionable song lyrics!

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Why I want a pick-up but won't be getting one!

OK, let's get this out of the way! I want a pick-up - a big, petrol-engined, American pick-up.
I want a pick-up for the three or four times in the year when having such a vehicle might be useful - to put up posters for elections, to shift a load of wood chips or bark for the garden or to move around trestle tables and chairs for our garden events.
Mostly I want a pick-up to annoy the sanctimonious, hectoring, eco-obsessives who think that to own one is a mark of satan!
Maybe one day!?

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Markets - survival needs passion not regulation!

I like markets - the picture above was taken at the Bradford International Market - an event I brought to Bradford and which attracted over 400,000 people to the City Centre in 2005. And it's not just the grand events like this one, it's also the everyday markets like that on John Street in Bradford - renamed the Oastler centre following a £5 million refit.

The Oastler Centre is a little microcosm of Bradford with stalls selling pie & peas, spices, Polish sausage, Croatian cakes, Italian bread, diced goat and yams. It does what markets have always done - it brings together people with a shared pair of objectives: to buy and sell good things to eat, to drink, to use and to wear. Moreover, in Bradford the City Centre markets are matched by outdoor markets in Shipley and Bingley, a covered market in Keighley and a selection of farmers markets the best of which, at Saltaire, has become a real fixture.

My interest in markets extends to having done a Masters dissertation on street markets - studying the economic impact of markets in Skipton (voted Britain's best market) and Mexborough. And like Nick Rhodes, former head of markets in Leicester, I found that markets make a real impact where they thrive. However, like Rhodes, I concluded that the economics of the traditional market business - the swag man and the rag man - no longer stacks up next to the cheap clothes of Primark or Matalan and the category killing of ASDA, Tesco and Morrisons.

Last week, the Communities & Local Government Committee of the House of Commons published its report into markets ('Market Failure? Can the traditional market survive?'). I have to admit to being underwhelmed by the work - the evidence is sound, some thought has gone into the work but I sense no passion for or real interest in traditional markets as a part of England's cultural heritage. There was also too much producer interest apparent - the market traders' association's desire to maintain their business through regulation rather than through competition and a stream of worthies from local government arguing for different types of new regulation and control. And I could scream at the prospect of a "national strategy" for markets under the malign aegis of the Department for Communities & Local Government.

The real lesson of recent - if folk were but to open their eyes and look -is that decline can be arrested when:

  1. Local authorities stop treating markets as just another cash generator plugging a budget hole in one department or another
  2. Markets operations are treated as a business rather than as a council department - and management is allowed to manage
  3. Capital investment decisions are predicated on the revenue of the markets not the council's overall capital programme
  4. Market traders are dealt with as tenants and customers of the market not as de facto owners and controllers

None of this stops the loss of business to discount clothing stores, on-line sales and the supermarkets - the wider retail market is driving that change. But it does mean markets stay attractive, attended to and places where people - from all sorts of background - want to go a spend some time shopping, eating, chatting or even just sitting and watching the world go by!

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Bradford Hospitals spend £2 million on corporate affairs - scope for savings in the NHS?

A few weeks back I received an e-mail from the Corporate Affairs Department of the Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust inviting me to join the Chair and others in celebrating 60 years of the NHS in Bradford. Now in times past I would have cheerfully sent my apologies and said nothing else. But this time I felt that this was a waste of money - certainly it would contribute nothing to improving health care or treatment for Bradfordians. Now as it happens the celebration in question was not put on at great expense but the response from the Trust Chair (£55,000 for a part-time job), former top copper David Richardson expressed surprise that I hadn't simply gone along with the planned jolly Indeed I had the gall to question its value and purpose!

Slightly irritated by this response I asked a few questions about the "Corporate Affairs" function at the Trust and about the remuneration of the Board (as a Foundation Trust there are in fact two boards - the expensive real one and a playtime Board of Governors for members of the foundation). The most significant fact is that all this bureaucracy costs the taxpayer over £2 million each year plus a Board of Directors costing nearly £800,000! It does seem to me that if the NHS is looking to make some savings, the operation and management of NHS Trusts - "corporate affairs" - might prove a fruitful area.

In Bradford simply reducing the number of non-executive directors from eight to four would save around £50,000 each year - cash that could go on paying nurses, providing treatments and contributing to the welfare of Bradford people. But here's a better idea - use councillors for the non-executives. Cheaper and, if we don't like the decisions there a democratic process for accountability - now that would be a radical step!

Saturday, 25 July 2009

New Victoria - the real question is "will it ever get built"?

Langtree Artisan have issued a new set of designs for the building to replace the empty, sad and semi-derelict former Odeon building in Bradford City centre. As with previous proposals there are sharply divided opinions between the very vocal and well organised Bradford Odeon Rescue Group (BORG) and the more quietly expressed views of what we might call Bradford's "establishment". I am not planning to enter this debate - although I will note that no opposition to demolition was raised when the previous private owners sought to build a night club, restaurants and bars on the site.

What I am concerned with is the prospects for the development - indeed any development. It is not simply that the current development market isn't delivering these types of multi-use developments but that the continued controversy acts to put off investors and lenders as well as undermining the interest of potential end users. More importantly, a scheme predicated on hotel and residential use raises significant doubts in my mind about deliverability. There are too many schemes - not just in Bradford - that await some mythic market shift so as to begin. In truth - and I hope those clever folk at Langtree Artisan can prove me wrong - the economics of this type of development simply don't stack up. Unless of course there's a copper bottomed hotel end-user already lined up! And do we really want more city centre apartments that don't sell?

The Odeon remains the big millstone round the neck of Bradford's regeneration - we are allowing the continuing argument about its future to disrupt the creation of a sensible approach that recognises the emerging role of city centres as places of leisure and pleasure rather than locations for commerce and shopping. The proposed scheme - now on-line - remains rather uninspiring, rather dated and chasing a past vision of the City.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Friday Fungus - Australian Truffles

The truffle has long been viewed as the emperor of fungi (I hesitate to say mushroom since the truffles we worship aren't fruiting heads) so it was a delight to discover that there are antipodean relatives of this exquisite delicacy - and that enterprising Aussies also took spores of the classic black truffle (Tuber melanosporum - see picture) and established truffle colonies in Tasmania. The primary (but not only) producer of black truffles is Perigord Truffles of Tasmania - nothing like saying what it does on the tin!

However, as well as growing these imported delicacies (a reminder yet again that you can transfer European - even French - classic produce elsewhere in the world and keep up levels of quality) there are also a fascinating range of truffle type fungi native to Australia. These pseudo-truffles are also edible and perhaps our antipodean friends might like to share some of their delights with those of us stuck in the Northern Hemisphere! There's a great deal to learn about these fungi and the Australian Fungi Website is a great place to start.

Finally, mycologists in Australia have identified a whole new bunch of truffles - related to the Amanita fungi that give us fairy rings and magic mushrooms (as well as some edible delights). The Amanita truffles are pictured above and are about the size of a marble. Finally, if you're wanting to experiment with eating mushrooms you gather yourself, truffles are a good place to start as none of the main truffle groups are poisonous (which isn't the same as saying they all taste good)!

Planning, conservation and the knocking down of vicarages

Those who know a little of Cullingworth affairs will have witnessed the sad demolition of the vicarage - a fine old house in the centre of the village that for many years provided a home for the priest-in-charge at St John's Church. Never one to shy away from tilting at windmills I wrote an open letter to the bishop raising some issues relating to the proposed demolition. But my main point was:

“At present I find it difficult to conclude the Church was motivated by anything other than a desire to realise the greatest return from the disposal and/or development of the vicarage or the site on which it stands.”

Nothing that has happened subsequetly to that observation - the demolition itself and a proposal to build three houses where once there was one vicarage - has acted to change that view of the Church's actions. More to the point the local boss of this very powerful, public body refused - in perhaps the rudest letter I have ever received as a Councillor (quite an achievement) - to answer some very reasonable questions.

1) Why did the Church not simply dispose of the vicarage as it stood and purchase a semi-detached house elsewhere in the village to house the vicar?
2) The Church officials claimed they made every effect to sell the vicarage - yet I have been told that offers to buy or part exchange the property were turned down because they weren't from developers. I asked whether this was true?

The Church claim demolition and the building of a mini-estate was the only option that allowed for them to provide a 'suitable home' for the local incumbant - an argument put in this letter to the Keighley News. The only part of the argument that supports the demolition is the rather strange assertion that the Church wanted to keep the vicarage "on the same site" - which given it's a good 400 yards or so from the Church seems rather 'made-up'.

My complaint isn't really about the knocking down of a fine family home and the redevelopment of the site for additional housing. This happens all the time, is often regretable and sometmes wrong. It is the attitude of the Church - a body that sets itself up as being superior in ethics and untainted by the wicked commercial world - to the destruction of heritage. And above all the complete failure of the leaders of this Church to do what we expect other public bodies to do - to engage with local people, to consult them and to listen to their views.

The vicarage has gone now and we'll get some unattractive, badly designed little boxes in its place. But the Church remains as a public body that comes over all private and secret when it wishes to promote its own financial interests at the expense of conservation, heritage and community. I leave the final comment to Rev. Graeme Hancocks, a Cullingworth resident who also took the trouble to write to the Keighley News:

Custodian of heritage
Debbie Child, Bradford Diocese human resources manager, is quoted as saying said the old vicarage in Halifax Road, Cullingworth, was being demolished "because it had become too expensive to run". While I fully understand and agree that the church is not a historic preservation society I cannot help but agree with Councillor Simon Cooke. The argument -demolish because it is too expensive to be run - could be applied to just about all of our heritage, a lot of which the Church of England (whether it likes it or not) is a custodian.

The article in Sir John Betjeman's old column, "Nooks and Corners" in this week's Private Eye rather summed it all up:

"...the Diocese of Bradford has announced that the village's vicarage, a handsome victorian gabled stone house, is to be demolished after standing empty for two years, to be replaced by three new homes - although it could perfectly well be refurbished and lived in. So much for the CofE's commitment to sustainability and the environment. What has Cullingworth done to deserve such gratuitous vandalism?"

Monday, 20 July 2009

Why Government shouldn't be let loose with cameras

As I wander round the villages of Bingley Rural, I often hear calls for cameras - whether speed cameras, CCTV or throw-away ones for snapping dog poo. I do understand why people want these things to litter our roads and village centres - people do drive too fast, too often; children do gather "menacingly" outside the co-op, by the war memorial and in the rec; and too many locals seem to think the pavements are provided as a toilet for their pooch.

I've always been a tad cynical about the value of cameras as a means of preventing mildly anti-social and occasionally dangerous activity and I'm sure that cameras affect the way in which people behave. And as Northumbria's then road traffic chief put it:

"Speed cameras don't reduce casualties - they are just for revenue generation. They don't engage and they aren't going to send you a message in the post telling you were driving badly."

The problem isn't that speed cameras don't affect my behaviour - they do - but that their effect on general driver behaviour is erratic and unpredictable. Cameras also have a negative effect on route selection with drivers opting for camera-free routes often involving less safe rural roads or residential streets. And cameras make no allowance for weather, time, road conditions or traffic volumes. But boy do they generate a load of cash!

With CCTV there is silence about the growing evidence suggesting that, not only does the presence of cameras has little or no impact on crime and anti-social behaviour but it may even make our streets less safe. Even the Home Office - CCTV's most enthusiastic advocate - found little or no evidence of the cameras achieving their main aim of reducing crime.

What CCTV does appear to do is make us all feel a little safer, a little less vigilant and still more reliant on fallible technology to do the job of policing out streets. Us Councillors like CCTV because it seems we're doing something - and we get our pictures in the local rag "fighting crime" and responding to local fears!

There is a place for CCTV - it appears to reduce crime in car parks and has some value as a protector of private property. But in public places CCTV has now become almost ubiquitous - making us Brits the most spied on people in the western world. We need urgently to review why we use this camera technology, to look closely as research questioning its value and to reconsider whether intrusive surveillance is really the best way to improve driver behaviour, control anti-social kids and reduce the impact of Saturday night's drunken antics.

I fear that we risk becoming a sad, ineffective and voyeuristic society more interested in technological fixes than human intervention. Our obsession with cameras reflects this - the footage makes great telly but really doesn't reduce crime. We'd be better off investing in better lighting!

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Now this is what I call a cup cake!!!

This young dragon was rescued from the launch of Parties around the World on Thursday last week at the old Leeds Club now Three Albion Place. He is the handiwork of Hannah Beaumont from Fanny's Cupcake Couture ( - who had their first gig at this launch. A real success!!

Oh and Parties around the World is a really good idea from Deirdre Bounds and Carl Hopkins (if you can put up with all the guff about ethics) - try it out!

Harvest II!! Blackcurrants - including some recipe thoughts and links!

The blackcurrants have been really good this year - must be the weather as we've done nothing different. My tweet about this crop prompted a little twitter exchange about what to do with bumper crops of blackcurrants. Suggestions have come to make blackcurrant vodka, to make bar-le-duc and to force the surplus onto friends and neighbours (or at least the ones without their own bumper crops to deal with)! Thanks to @celiabb @IdleSi and @willonline.

Here's a few more thoughts - and there's plenty more at the Blackcurrant Foundation's website:

Blackcurrant schnapps - this is a Danish sugar-free recipe so will be sharper than the usual vodka, berries and sugar approach.
Blackcurrant Ice Lollies - courtesy of Waitrose a nice idea (and the leftover mush will make a smoothie too!)
Russian Blackcurrant recipes seem a bit different - blackcurrant soup looks interesting and there's also instructions for making tea with the leaves
Blackcurrant teabread - a baker's solution that might use up the smaller older berries that wouldn't look so good in a cheesecake or a flan

And when you get bored with blackcurrant desserts and teas you can put them in the mani course with pork or with duck. Plus this rather weird combination with emu (specially for our antipodean readers!).

And now it's all over - a little picture of the 'de-berried' bushes as they await the end of Summer pruning (still a load a raspberries to go at first)!

Friday, 17 July 2009

The Friday Fungus: Calvatia gigantea

The giant puffball is one of the super mushrooms - you won't find many mushrooms that, on their own, can feed a family of ten but Calvatia gigantea is that mushroom. So long as it is fresh (when it has white flesh) the giant puffball - like nearly all puffballs - is edible. As ever our friends at Wild About Mushrooms tell you what to look for and how to cook and preserve these champion fungi.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Garden grabbing, green belts and affordable housing - a sensitive subject!

As someone elected to represent five villages surrounded by a swathe of West Yorkshire's 'Green Belt' I should perhaps stay off the subjects of planning and housing! But since these issues are the 'big deal' when it comes to local voters it would be rather foolish not to comment!

Let's start with the options as people - or at least the vocal ones - tend to put them:

1. The BANANA policy. Build absolutely nothing anywhere near anyone. This is the 'green party' position and says that the 'green belt' is too precious and too important for even the smallest change to the most insignificant wall to be permissible.

2. The NIMBY approach. Probably the most common and might be summarised as "...please Mr Planner, Sir build your houses in the village down the road not here." Obviously the NIMBY sets out lots of very good reasons where 'there' is better than 'here' - but that's the gist of the case for sure

3. The KOSCAG platform. Keep out scroats, chavs and gypsies. OK Mr Developer and Mr Planner, you can build some houses if you really insist. But they have to be 4-bed detached houses (with or without a moat) and ABSOLUTELY NO AFFORDABLE HOMES. We welcome Jaguars, BMWs and Mercedes (but not more than two years old - unless classics).

Now I have some sympathy for all of this but have concluded that we have to be more responsive if we are to prevent the planners - egged on by the worst of the mass housebuilders - simply building huge new housing estates on former farmland. I call this the triumph of the suburban farmer - the one who wants to grow houses rather than hay!

We need to review 'green belt' policies, the attitude to previously developed land in villages, definitions of employment land and the justifications for protecting gardens from development.

1. Green Belt policies - farm & other rural buildings. You know those semi-derelict farm buildings, mill buildings, store-houses and barns? The ones that planners say can't be developed for holiday lets, business units or light industry? We should let them be used and we should allow additional limited development within former farm sites.

2. Green Belt polices - land in villages. Many small villages and hamlets are 'washed over' by the 'green belt' making any development within them very difficult. We should identify sites and allow development where it does not extend the boundaries of these places and where the development is in keeping with a rural environment.

3. Previously developed land in villages. It drives me nuts when planners - and the occasional Parish Council - oppose housing development in order to protect "employment land" within rural villages. Haven't they noticed how employment has changed? And how this land lies unused because commerce and industry isn't interested in putting it to use? Build houses on it!

4. Stop obsessing about 'garden grabbing'. I'm all in favour of protecting good gardens, orchards and the general feel of a neighbourhood. But saying that big garden - not something most folk want these days - can never be developed for housing (sorry Eric) is stupid. We need policies that protect - within reason - fine houses (something the Church of England needs to learn) and their gardens but not a blanket "never allow building on a garden policy". (As an aside here, can we also relax the rules on horticulture in the 'green belt' to allow rural villages to provide much needed allotments.)

5. Facilitate Village Housing Trusts. Too often I hear complaints about social housing allocations forcing people out of the village - and they are wrong. Creating village housing trusts using public land can provide affordable housing for local people - with the allocations policy controlled locally by the trust or by a Parish Council.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009


Cullingworth is fortunate to have a prize-winning butcher - Ellisons. Pork Pies, sausages, prepared meats and, in the Summer, kebabs and other barbeque treats are available. You can't miss the shop it's right opposite the War Memorial and next to The Paper Shop.

The Idle Idler has, under his Twitter name of IdleSi been promoting some kind of virtual sausage fest so in the spirit of the game we purchased a large quantity of Ellison's finest pork and chive sausages and, enhanced by some little chestnut mushrooms, the result was this (apologies for the lousy photography):

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Cullingworth doesn't want "modern community leadership" but a little bit of old-fashioned service would go amiss.

An assortment of the great and the good have launched something called 21st Century Councillor. This grouping - doubtless well rewarded with dollops of our taxes - suggest that tomorrow's local Councillor will be a:

"... supported, confident, talented and professional community leader."

Now I have no problem with Councillors being confident and talented and I haven't the foggiest what the bureaucrats mean by "supported" but I have my doubts about the remainder. In truth I believe the assumptions that underlie the observation to be dangerously wrong.

Being a local councillor is not a profession (there isn't yet a chartered institute of councillors although I don't doubt the LGA, LGIU, IDeA, NLGN, LACORS and assorted other well-padded London-based local government organisations have it all planned) and local councillors are not elected to provide "community leadership" we are elected to represent the residents of our ward - and I interpret that as meaning to serve their interests not to lead them.

However, as most decision-making power was removed from local councillors by Blair's local government "modernisation", the great and the good have been scrabbling around looking for some kind of role for all us pesky backbenchers. And the solution - promoted by that most New Labour of organisations the New Local Government Network under my pleasingly former MP Chris Leslie - has been the idea of councillors as Community Leaders.

The problem is that places like Cullingworth really don't want community leadership - especially from community leaders who have the role of telling them why the local council, at the behest of some bureaucrat down in London, is imposing something that isn't either needed or wanted. What villagers here desire is a little bit of response from the council, the health service, the police, the Environment Agency and, for that matter, all the myriad other bureaucratic institutions that blight the lives of ordinary folk. And because they don't get that attention most of the time, the councillor's job is to argue, insist, cajole, badger, shout and generally get up the noses of local officialdom in the hope that they will actually listen to local people and act on what they hear.

Where I come from that's not "community leadership" it's service.

Saturday, 11 July 2009


A sample from the 2009 harvest of summer fruit - black currants still to come!

Friday, 10 July 2009

The Friday Fungus: boleto

I think of these guys as the aristocracy of the mushroom world - ceps, porcini, boleto, the 'king bolete'. You've all eaten them whether dried or fresh - for a little more about them, how to find them, cook them and eat them Wild About Mushrooms has all you need.
...and here at FriendsEAT they have some great risotto recipes just made for these glorious mushrooms!

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

The Lord Mayor should serve Cullingworth Beer not Tetleys

Cullingworth, as befits its nature, has a brewery - Old Spot - rather controversially located at Manor Farm on Station Road. Now I think this is a good thing and that we should be encouraging craft brewers with the same enthusiasm as we encourage web designers, e-commerce start-ups and fair trade coffee bars. We don't and this is illustrated by the catering department at Bradford's City Hall.

Every year we install a Lord Mayor and on this occasion alcohol is served to Councillors and their guests (the only time this happens in the year). What an opportunity to showcase Bradford's brewers! And Bradford's butchers. And vegetable growers. And bakers.

So do Bradford Council serve Old Spot, Timothy Taylors, Saltaire Brewery or Goose Eye beers? No we get tins of Tetley's and Carlsberg lager. Not good enough.

Update: Have missed off Salamander from the Bradford Beer list (thanks IdleSi)

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Manywells tip and the failings of environmental policies - why the Greens are wrong.

Back in the early 1990s planning permission was granted for a landfill site to be constructed in the disused Manywells Quarry on the hill above Cullingworth. Over the subsequent 9 years or so much of Bradford's household waste - the stuff you and I put in the bin every week - was dumped in the site. Now think for a few moments about what you throw away - the empty bleach bottles, the batteries, used medicines, cosmetics containers and unwanted food. Even the most assiduous of recyclers throws some of this away and the result is a poisonous mess of highly contaminated waste as dangerous in many ways as the 'hazardous' waste some campaigners get so bothered about.

Landfill sites for controlled waste (such as the stuff you throw away) are essentially a large plastic bag stuck in a hole in the ground - a sophisticated plastic bag to be sure - but still a pretty fair description. As the stuff placed in this bag rots it generates gas - methane, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and sulphur compounds in various mixes - and leachate (about which the less said the better - you really don't want to know what's in it). As you can see this isn't a very environmentally sustainable way to deal with waste - indeed landfill is considered the least sustainable means of dealing with our rubbish. As a result Government's across Europe have agreed to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill by 50% by 2012 (a target we'll almost certainly miss).

Cullingworth folk know about landfill - before Manywells they put up with the even larger and more contaminating Sugden End tip (which took over £5 million to remediate) - which explains why the recycling point in the village is one of the District's best used! And I have spent much of my time as a Councillor trying - often in vain - to get the Council to improve its waste strategy and to stop planner approving more of these hideous contaminating places.

So what's this got to do with the 'Greens'? Surely they agree with all this stuff about reducing waste? Well yes and no is the answer - the 'Greens' call for the reduction of waste to landfill, get all agitated about supermarket packaging, plastic bags and nappies but fail to answer the obvious question - what is the alternative? When asked this simple question they get all hypothetical and talk about 'zero waste strategies' as an aspiration rather than answering the question - what are going to do with all the rubbish we're generating NOW?

So just like the most sensible medium term approach to reducing carbon emissions is nuclear energy - which the 'Greens' (proving once again their anti-science credentials) don't like - the sensible medium term solution to the waste issue is to carry on the effective strategy of reduction, reuse and recycling and combine it with energy-from-waste via incineration or other heat treatment. The alternative is that we will go on using landfills - nasty, smelly, contaminating, greenhouse gas generating piles of rotting rubbish. The 'Greens' are wrong to oppose incineration because of their absolutist obsession with the (quite appealling but rather utopian) idea of 'zero waste'.

Why Parish Councils should be encouraged

Wilsden is one of Cullingworth's 'next door villages' and straggles down the valley from the Haworth Road to the Malt Shovel at Harden (which is actually in Wilsden - one of geography's little quirks). Like Cullingworth, Wilsden is a combination of traditional South Pennine mill village terraces and cottages with assorted dormitory estates built over the last 50 years.

Yesterday evening was Wilsden Parish Council - a meeting that brings both exasperation and stultifying boredom. But despite this - and the pettifogging nature of much discussed - I remain convinced of the value we get from Parish Councils.

Last night the Wilsden Parish Council discussed the minutiae of living in the village - the impact of a road closure on the post office, the delivery of the village newsletter (and the worry that there appear to be three of these newsletters) and assorted planning applications for caravans, conservatories and an ugly detatched house. Not matters of great moment but important in their very local, specific way.

So, despite the busibodying, the seemingly endless meetings, the wittering about the tiniest issue and the occasional bout of self-importance, Parish Councils are a good thing - they enhance a place and they do so at very low cost (about a tenner a head in Wilsden). If you don't already have one think about getting one. And thank me when you're sitting through the second hour of a discussion about the Parish web-site!

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Garden trails, duck races, scarecrows and the straw race - the importance of invented tradition

Today was the Cullingworth Garden Trail - 18 gardens opened to the public, selling plants, cakes, tea and, in our case, home made lemonade. The trail has been going for a few years now and its proximate purpose is to raise money for Manorlands, the Sue Ryder Hospice in Oxenhope (the next but one village from Cullingworth, as it were). And a fine job it does in this purpose raising around £3,000 each year for a worthy cause.

But is this the ultimate - the real - purpose of this event? Or does it represent something more fundamental to the English village? These events, like fetes, galas and parades act to bring the people of a place together in a shared activity and to do so celebrating something so quintessentially English as the garden. Folk get to meander round a pleasant place, poking their nose into how other people do things and doing so without fear of challenge for those folk have allowed such investigation to happen. And will sell you tea and a bun into the bargain!

These events - like the legion of scarecrow festivals (Cullingworth has one of these too), duck races such as that held annually in Carleton near Skipton and events that seem to look back to a rural past - the Straw Race at Oxenhope being a fine example. These invented local traditions recreate the elements of village life that existed in the past - the idea of 'holy days', festivals and marking the changing of the seasons or the moments of the working year.

Today's Sunday Telegraph highlighted the way in which bureaucracy gets in the way of these "new traditions" with worries about health & safety, licencing laws, binge drinking and the modern obsession with never closing the highway. Added to this is the malign influence of ambulance-chasing lawyers and the reaction of the insurance industry to the remotest threat of litigation. People want to take part in these invented traditions, they raise millions for charity and the help define places to those who live in them and to folk who visit. Should we not consider whether public authorites can underwrite this voluntary, community-forming activity so as to prevent it all being lost? Or will it be like everything else that defines English tradition - expendable to the authorites and ignored by the City dwellers and sniffy commenters.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

The View from Cullingworth

Up here in the gentle valleys of the South Pennines folk like to think life travels at a different pace. It's not that we do things differently - it all seems much the same most of the time - but that views are held more firmly, more definitely than down there in the City's bright lights. There are still fights in the pub on Saturday nights but you see the same two lads drinking together on Sunday as if nothing untoward had taken place.

I'm a long term visitor in these parts (not being from 'round here') and have been trying to give a voice to Cullingworth people - and the good residents of the other villages that make up Bingley Rural - since 1995 when I first sneaked onto Bradford Council by just 15 votes. Since returning to live in the village just before Christmas 2004, I got still closer to the locals and have come to share their anger at the way we're treated by public authorities, politicians and those poor deluded fools who think city life is mighty fine.

Representing these villages isn't as simple as some think - "defend the green belt" some cry! But what about the farmer who wants to get better use from old stone buildings? "No more house building cry others"! Without asking where the sons and daughters of Cullingworth people are going to live when thet grow up and want to live somewhere, raise a family and contribute to the continuation of the village as a real place rather than a dormitory. "Close down those noisy, smelly or unsightly businesses" is another call made without thinking of the consequences.

People complain that the pubs are closing but never use them. That young people are badly behaved but campaign against encouraging those youngsters to use the rec. And that people should not be allowed to do something or other because it's against some planning rule or other.

If this first post is about setting the tone, I would like you (assuming vainly that there is a you reading this) appreciate that keeping Cullingworth - and thousands of other great villages across England - is not about rules, banning things, employing enforcement officers, beefing up the strategic planning infrastructure or any of those grandiloquent wonderments so beloved of us politicians. It's about allowing people to rub along together, to row and fight, to sulk in the corner, to cry, to sing, to smile. Allowing people to make the place without interference from bureaucrats, experts and the paraphenalia of modern intrusive government.