Friday, 28 August 2009

Friday Fungus: the world's biggest living thing (and one of the oldest)!

The world's largest living thing is probably a mushroom - Armillaria ostoyae or the honey mushroom. The biggest example of this fungus covers 2,200 acres and is in the Malheur national forest in Oregon. And this mushroom is pretty old too - at least 2,400 years and possibly as much as 7,000 years. (There is some argument that the Pando or quivering aspen of Utah is bigger and older - but it's not a mushroom so who cares!)

I've read mixed reviews on the edibility of honey mushrooms with some claiming them as delicious while others suggest they cause quite serious gastric problems in some people. Personally, I always worry a little about parasitic fungi - no reason to but it some how feels better to think of them as wholly bad!

What the hell is a social enterprise anyway?

David Floyd (beanbags and bullsh!t) presents a witty little contribution to the debate about the “social enterprise” badge being promoted by Rise asking what all the fuss is about and why such a badge – the “social enterprise mark” – is needed.

As it happened I had been talking with a colleague about how much I hate the term “social enterprise” oozing as it is with superiority and smugness (although my distaste for this term is dwarfed by my loathing of the term “third sector”). Are all the world’s other enterprises anti-social just because they have the gall and cheek to make a profit?

Now it seems, some organisations that fit a preordained set of requirements can stick a shiny new badge on their headed paper declaring to the world that they have achieve the elevated “social enterprise” status! Well forgive me for not sounding my horn or waving flags to celebrate this new initiative.

We need to drop the wholly artificial distinction between a “social” entrepreneur and the ordinary run-of-the-mill sort of entrepreneur. It always was a nonsense, it belittles the creation of value (or rather places greater emphasis on one type or measure of value) and shoves aside the vital importance of private enterprise in making places work.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Some thoughts on risotto – and the odd mushroom!

Risotto is one of the most abused dishes in Italian cooking. We use the wrong rice, we bake it rather than cook on the top, we boil it to death and – the worst crime of all – we shove cream or creamy sauces in with the rice.

The secret of good risotto is in the stock. And in the patience to make that stock do its job – soaking into the rice, bringing out the stickiness and creaminess from the grains to make a smooth, filling and flavoursome dish. The meat, vegetables – or even mushrooms – are the added flourish to the main event.

To make a risotto with mushrooms, we start with a mushroom stock:

Dried porcini mushrooms (a small handful)
Chopped shallots (just a couple)
Herbs – whatever you’ve got: parsley, thyme, sage…
Dash of Worcester sauce (soy sauce for veggies)
Salt & pepper

Shove all this in two litres of water and boil for about 15-20 minutes – that’s your stock done – keep it simmering. Now for the cooking bit!

Take a good heavy based saucepan and heat about two tablespoons of olive oil (don’t use the posh stuff – the ordinary late season oil is fine).
Chop a shallot & a clove of garlic and fry with some allspice berries or juniper berries (the soffrito).
Add about 4oz of Arborio rice and mix until the rice is covered with the oil.
Soften with a half glass of marsala (use white wine for chicken risotto).

Now the boring bit! You add the stock one ladleful at a time – keep stirring and letting the stock soak into the rice. When it begins to stick add another ladle of stock and repeat. This takes about 20-25 minutes until the rice is al dente – cooked but retaining some bite, not sloppy (it’s not a rice pudding we’re making).

While you’re cooking the rice prepare the mushrooms – they’re best fresh, roughly chopped and salted before cooking. Heat up a heavy skillet or similar with some oil. Add the mushrooms to the hot oil and fry for a minute or two then remove from the heat and cover. The mushrooms will continue to cook without going slimy.

When the rice is all but cooked add the mushrooms and another small dash of marsala – serve into a warm dish and shave some parmesan onto the top. Serve with a big, bold bottle (or three) of red wine.

Is too much public sector employment strangling Northern cities?

For a long while I’ve felt a little like a lone voice in the wilderness regarding the damage that an over reliance on public sector employment is doing to many of our towns and cities – especially in the North of England. Moving public sector jobs “up north” has been popular with policy-makers wanting to try and fix the decline in traditional manufacturing jobs (so long as it doesn’t include said policy-maker having to relocate from the soft south, of course).

However, the Centre for Cities has now issued a strong challenge to this orthodoxy – arguing in a recent paper, Public Sector Cities: Trouble Ahead that cities are:

“…investing an undue amount of time and resource into competing for a small number of relocating public sector jobs. Promoting private sector growth would be a more sustainable option.”

The paper also reveals just how dependent the economy of some towns is on continuing public sector largess. Eleven towns & cities have more that a third of their work force in the public sector including Liverpool, Oxford and Barnsley. And as the inevitable public spending cuts arrive it will be workers in these places that go ahead of the more proximate Whitehall bureaucrats.

But it’s not just the jobs it’s the squeezing out of enterprise by the dominance of public institutions – nationally there are 415 VAT-registered businesses for every 10,000 people. In Liverpool this figure is just 241, in Barnsley 274 and in Plymouth a measly 233. Since I don’t believe folk in these places are much different from more enterprising places, there has to be cultural and environmental factors leading to this deficit – and the leaden hand of dominant public institutions provides just those factors. Not being enterprising because Dad expects you to go down the pit has been replaced with not creating because there’s an admin job at the DWP.

In truth too much of the North’s economy is made up from public expenditure – by what amounts to a subsidy from the rich South to the poor North. And the result is that the North does not add value – does not earn its share of the nation’s wealth. In 2005/6 public spending and GVA per capita by region related inversely to levels of public spending:
Public Spending % of economy
North East: 61.5; North West: 52.6; Yorkshire:48.9; South East: 33.9; London: 33.4
GVA per capita
North East: 13.5; North West 15.0; Yorkshire 14.9; South East 19.5; London 22.2
In the end places get richer (however you wish to define that idea) because of the enterprise, initiative and creativity of the people who choose to live in that place. Importing soul-less, stifling public sector employers is killing that drive.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Hooligans - it's not football they follow it's violence

A couple of weeks back this bar - the Foundry Hill in Bingley - had its windows smashed in, stock destroyed or stolen and customers threatened and intimidated. By men who claimed to be supporters of Bradford City - a "firm" known as Ointment. I am sure that up and down the country people can tell of similar tales - whether it is of the Brighton Headhunters, Palace's Dirty 30 or the Service Crew from Leeds. For all the adoption of a particular badge, these men are more lovers of violence than lovers of football.

Yesterday evening saw the seemingly inevitable violence break out at the game between West Ham and Millwall - long-standing rivals in London. Others like The West Ham Process and Darren Lewis in the Daily Mirror described the experience first hand and it did not sound pleasant or enjoyable - emotions we should be able to associate with a sporting occasion.

Some - like our sports minister - have responded with the obvious knee-jerk condemnation accompanied by calls for books to be thrown and stones not to be left unturned. I find this unhelpful since it heaps too much of the blame on the police, the stewards, the club and the ordinary fan. These reactions, however much they might be understandable, do not get to the heart of the matters, do not ask why such violence takes place and simply fuel the calls for more draconian restrictions on football - and by extension other sports as well.

Other observers - before and after the game - seem more wise, more thoughtful and should be paid more attention. Peter Preston in the Guardian reacts as a long-standing Millwall fan by saying it's not the game but the people. And before the game West Ham fan and regeneration writer, Julian Dobson asked what it is that creates divisions and prejudice - in society generally as much as in football.

And these writers appreciate that this hooliganism, this violence, reflects our wider society and culture - football is victim not a perpetrator. The solution - if there is one - lies within the minds of those who join these "firms" of hooligans. And with a society that is at best equivocal towards violence and at worst rewards it with license.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Sue the BNP? How stupid are the Equalities & Human Rights Commission?

The airwaves are full of the news that Trevor Philips' equalities super-quango are to sue the BNP because they only let white people join the party.

Excuse me? What are you thinking equalicrats?

As if we didn't know the BNP didn't like black people. They're racists you know! And trying to use equalities rules to shut them down is pouring high octane racing fuel on a fire - bloody stupid.

Using the courts to "beat the fascists" is using their methods - so what if they only want white members. So what if they break the assorted equalities laws with every breath.

We'll only defeat them by persuading the voters that they are idiots - and we don't do that by being total idiots ourselves now do we?

Sutcliffe's Guide to Ministerial Ignorance: No. 1 - The Odeon

Gerry Sutcliffe, Sports Minister and Bradford MP has vaulted onto the Odeon bandwagon in his usual opportunistic and just slightly ignorant manner. It all sounds good with calls for penalty clauses, pre-lets and other exciting controls over the redevelopment of a GOVERNMENT-OWNED building.

This is the same Gerry Sutcliffe who, when leader of Bradford Council signed up to the disastrous superdome proposals for Odsal.

This is the same Gerry Sutcliffe who failed to persuade his mate John Prescott to allow the Sterling Capital development at Odsal to proceed.

And this is the same Gerry Sutcliffe who did everything he could to scupper a subsequent Odsal development that involved some changes at Horsfall Stadium half a mile away.

Now how do we put this so Gerry might understand?

You can't make someone develop a site unless they want to build. Developers will not sign up to penalty clauses - why should they, they're not contractors - and will need planning permission in order to negotiate any pre-lets. We can't make them build a white elephant, Gerry.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Things my local NHS should do but won't...

1. Make a forward appointment to see a GP

2. Renew a prescription on-line or by e-mail

3. Have GP surgeries that open at times convenient to the patient

4. Allow a blood test to be taken in Manchester and the results sent to the doctor in Cullingworth

5. Stay open at lunchtime – there’s enough staff in there to cover

6. Recycle crutches

7. ….treat us like customers not nameless peons.

I don't ask for much - it's a National Health SERVICE, and I'm not getting much of that service.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Friday Fungus: mushroom ketchup - a serving suggestion!

Breakfast - toasted onion bread, polish pickle, farmhouse single gloucester cheese and - concluding this weeks Friday Fungus (a day late) - homemade mushroom ketchup!

Friday, 21 August 2009

Friday Fungus - mushroom ketchup

The word ketchup - or catsup as it was often spelled in times past - once described a malay fish sauce (a bit like the Korean kimchi) and had nothing to do with tomato at all. There is a delicious irony though: the fish sauces all originate from chinese cooking and the cantonese word keh jup means tomato sauce today!

There are plenty of recipes around for mushroom ketchup -some originals from the 18th century and others updated to make use of such modern innovations as ovens, gas and food processors! My recipe is a bit of a mix up featuring flavours I like, varying quantities and cooking slowly in the oven rather than on the hob.

1lb 8oz Mushroom - the ordinary white ones are fine
3oz Dried Porcini Mushrooms - I guess you could use fresh ones as well
Coarse sea salt
6oz chopped shallots - again you could use red onions or even green onions
2 inch fresh ginger (chopped)
Clove of garlic
1 tsp Allspice - I've used ground but the berries might be better
6-10 Juniper berries
Glass red wine - I kept an unfinished one from a previous night - can't waste the good stuff!
Glass "mushroom water" - this is the hot water in which you've soaked the dried porcini
Half Glass white wine vinegar - I'm not fussy about this bit except not malt vinegar
Black pepper

On the spice front go for stuff you like - some recipes have nutmeg, cloves or cinnamon and you might think about replacing the red wine with soy sauce.

What to do:
1. Chop or slice the mushrooms, mix with plenty of salt and leave to stand (not in the fridge) for 24 hours. Some recipes ask you to do this for 5 days - I lack the patience!

2. Mix the salted mushrooms with all the other ingredients, put in a large pot and cook on a low temperature (150 degrees) for about 90 minutes.

3. Allow to cool and then blend - use a food processor if you'd like some little lumps of mushroom, a blender if you want it smooth. Cool it right down and then bottle - should keep in the fridge for a couple of months. (some recipes want you to force it through cheesecloth - definitely pre-blender recipes and I'm not a purist!)

Or you could use Heston's recipe (a right faff!)

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Odeon - we can't leave it to just seven councillors!

I've passed comment on proposals to redevelop the former Odeon before - I'm no proponent of the existing building or the new proposals. But there's a bigger issue - we (and by that I mean Bradford's 90 Councillors) can't just let the seven councillors on the Regulatory & Appeals Committee decide the former Odeon's fate. This is not just a difficult decision but a decision that we all will be held to account for whether we had any part in it or not.

I'm not a lawyer or a constitutionalist but there has to be a way for all of us - at full council - to debate this decision. That must be better than leaving it to a technical committee to make a decision based on technical considerations. Bradford people want to see us discuss this -the time has come to do so!

Mushroom Ketchup - the doings!

A little taster for tomorrow's Friday Fungus - mushroom ketchup!

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Sir Patrick is right about MPs pay....well almost!

Sir Patrick Cormack thinks MPs like him need rewarding for agreeing not to have a second homes allowance - 120 grand will do he suggests.
My suggestion - just give MPs 150 grand, an office, a phone and a travel warrant and be done with it. No staff allowance, no second home scheme, the car mileage, no subsistance - just a lump of cash. I'd do it on this basis and so would thousands of others. And some of them are from Sir Paddy's beloved " and professional classes."

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Assisted places at good schools? Hoc age!

The usual supporters of an education state monopoly are having a hissy fit at Bromley Council considering supporting parents of children in private schools who lose their jobs. You would have thought that the council was forcing children to beg barefoot in the streets to hear some of the comments. Sadly, Bromley have backed down from the proposal - perhaps because of the fuss but officially because of other priorities in education.

However, the episode reminds me of a conversation with a private school headmaster on this very subject. His school is one of the fifty best schools in the country, has an admirable record of supporting talented children through bursaries and in partnerships with local primary schools. The headmaster's proposal was this:

The local education authority pays exactly what it would pay in AWPU (age-weighted pupil unit) funding and the school would top up to its fee level using bursaries. The places would be reserved to bright children from deprived areas and the school would provide additional, personal and family support.

I think this is the direction we should be going in education - away from the failing state monolith and towards a more free, more varied and more responsive mixed economy in education. And, we can put this in place today without any change to legislation or regulation!

As one top private grammar school's motto would have it (presaging a well-known sports shoe brand) - HOC AGE!

Monday, 17 August 2009

Pushing water uphill - why we lose good Councillors

Ran into Phil Thornton, ex-Labour Councillor for Shipley East. After the normal greetings the conversation went something like this:

"Do you miss it?"

"Was gutted for a few days after I lost but no - discovered there's a real world out there...pointless being a Councillor"

"Pushing water uphill?"

"Yes, waste of time."

Now I don't know about others but I find it sad that someone with Phil's talent sees no point in trying to come back as a councillor. That what we do is a waste of time. But I do understand why he feels that way about it. And our Parties have it in them to make the changes that will keep folk like Phil - and doubtless many others - involved and active.

1. Stop rewarding bullies - sorry "strong, assertive, forceful leaders"

2. Put an end to obsessive whipping on local councils - these aren't matters of principle

3. Say thank you to people who serve the Party well for a long time

4. Promote independence of thought not slavish adherence to the Leader's line

...and after all this, agree that we elect people to make decisions not to perform some fictitious "community leadership" function.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Bradford's City Centre - five ideas to kickstart its regeneration

Yesterday I read two thoughtful pieces of writing about Bradford's regeneration - one entitled "Common Sense Regeneration" from the Bradford Civic Society, the other the City Life column in The Spectator.

"Common Sense Regeneration" sets out its stall as a regeneration manifesto for the City - an exercise in critical friendship. And in doing this Bradford Civic Society fails comprehensively to deliver - the 'manifesto' reads as an unstructured miss-mash of 'glass-half-empty' kicking at the Council, the ideas of local lobby groups - an inner city ring road and a grossly expensive investment in heavy rail - and the unquestioning promotion of sub-Victorian pastiche over good modern architecture.

But this is just my opinion - what I find completely underwhelming about the Civic Society's proposals is that they completely ignore economic realities. Not one moment of consideration is given to how the grand schemes might be built - who is going to finance a 3,500 seat concert hall, where they'll get the £200 million needs to link the two stations and how the £100 million or so to buy back the Westfield site will be raised. There is nothing new in the proposals, no originality, nothing that wasn't already in the public domain for discussion and consideration.

Very disappointing. In contrast outsider Robert Beaumont's City Life piece in The Spectator cuts right to the heart of the issue - the failure of Bradford Centre Regeneration & Yorkshire Forward to deliver on the vision for a new city centre, the slow transformation of some areas through considered private investment and the opportunities presented by Bradford's success stories - the National Media Museum, Saltaire, Lister Mills, Manningham Park and becoming the first UNESCO City of Film.

And the diagnosis - sitting waiting for the sugar daddy to fund transformation means it won't happen. We have to get on with the job!

So what could we do? Here are five, deliverable, transformational, proposals:

1. Commission a top architect to design a new Bradford Civic Centre - a new home for Bradford Council's dispersed departments (currently spread inefficiently across five or more locations) and built on the site of the current - and very ugly - Jacob's Well office block. This is deliverable because Bradford Council provide a strong covenant allowing a private partner to secure the finance to build a new, iconic building in the City Centre.

2. Construct the first section of a new Bradford Canal from Dockfield at Shipley to Lavers wood yard. Nearly all the land concerned is in public ownership and available now. Disposing of development rights along the line of the canal provides the covenant needed to raise finance. Public funding - around £2 million - is needed to complete the new bridge under the Airedale railway line but that should be achievable.

3. Building a new extension to the Oastler Centre using the soon-to-close Morrisons supermarket and spreading onto a newly pedestrianised John Street. Removing the ugly corner building opposite might not be affordable but, were it possible, a new open square could be constructed - similar in impact to the new Market Square recently completed in Bingley.

4. Changing the way we use City Hall - making it more of a building for the public than an impenetrable "public building". Meeting space, restaurants and a small auditorium would enhance the already successful Centenary Square and Norfolk Gardens open spaces. This transformation - linked to a new Civic Centre - would be funded either through that development or from the Council's capital budget.

5. Committing to a five year programme of events, occasions and celebrations in the centre. This animates new places, makes use of temporary spaces produced by developments and provides reasons for Bradford's citizens to come into the City Centre. The City should look to a revenue investment of at least £3 million a year (from its £1 billion plus gross budget) in delivering this programme of events and activities.

I don't think these proposals will solve all the City's problems - the sensitive matter of the Odeon and the stalled Westfield development remain. But in delivering these the City would show it meant business - and would instill some confidence in the private investors needed to deliver on these big schemes.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Nothing to do in Bradford City Centre? Think again!

Had an e-mail from a local resident who asked (amid some comments about the Odeon and Park at the Heart): "Why would anyone come into the city centre?"

This picture provides the answer - because of what's on! This is Garden Magic, a celebration of gardens and summer featuring this awesome sand sculpture of Charles Darwin! Reason enough to go into the City Centre. And this follows earlier successful events such as the Bradford Classic. And later in the year there will be a Christmas market and other activities to mark assorted festivals and the annual yuletide consumption fest!

Friday Fungus - use the NHS not mushrooms for your healthcare!!

I’m always fairly skeptical about the medicinal claims made for food – not just because they are such a feature of the Daily Mail. And the claims made for the efficacy of various mushrooms fall into this somewhat doubtful category – which doesn’t stop the BBC treating it as some amazing scientific discovery! And mushrooms of one kind or another feature prominently in Chinese herbal medicine (nothing ‘traditional’ about this of course – more a Maoist deception).

The champion mushroom in Chinese medicine is lingzhi (Ganoderma lucidum) – more commonly referred to by its Japanese name of reishi. Its advocates propose it as a treatment for a bewildering and extensive collection of ailments! Longevity and prevention of diseases, insomnia, stress, influenza and common cold, asthma, allergies, cancer, hypertension, heart disease, high cholesterol (LDL), diabetes, headache, stomach ache, arthritis, back pain, skin care, hair loss, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and hepatitis.

Although I suspect these claims to be stretching the point – verging on nonsense – there is some evidence that reishi acts as an immune system stimulant. And that its use in combination with chemotherapy in some cancer treatments may be effective as well as an application in the management of HIV/AIDS. However, despite these claims – and the mushroom’s widespread use – the drug lists suggest there is insufficient evidence to support these claims. And like many mushrooms the reishi may have negative side effects:

“Reishi mushroom might be safe for most people. It can cause some side effects including dryness of the mouth, throat, and nasal area along with itchiness, stomach upset, nosebleed, and bloody stools. Drinking reishi wine can cause a rash. Breathing in reishi spores can trigger allergies.”

Fungi have proven an important source of medicines especially the microfungi like penicillin. But on their own mushrooms can taste great, look fantastic, make you high and poison you. Cure you? Probably not – stick to the good old NHS!

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Let's get on and have some fun in Bradford City Centre!

For a while now I've banged on about the importance of events to successful regeneration. It's not enough to build shopping centres, parks, public squares or iconic buildings. These places and spaces have to be animated - they are made by what happens in them not merely by the fact of their existence.

Bradford City Centre is a case in point. On an ordinary day it leaves a deal to be desired, there's the semi-derelict former Odeon, the hole that will be a Westfield shopping centre some day and a central business district that splutters and struggles. But Bradford Council has done better than most in animating the spaces that is controls - I've written before about the success of the Bradford International Markets Festival and the recent Bradford Classic (featuring a Le Mans Jaguar and Aston Marten) repeats that success with a different audience.

And last weekend we saw Garden Magic - again a repeat but this year featuring a magnificent sand sculpture of Charles Darwin. As Julian Dobson put it in his Living with Rats blog by way of comment about the risible YouGov PlaceIndex:

"A jazz band was playing in Centenary Square outside the city hall as part of the city's Garden Magic week, while an artist has been carving a giant sand sculpture of that little-known Bradfordian, Charles Darwin (though you might mistake him for Titus Salt at a distance)."

Leaving aside that Darwin lived at Downe House in Kent, Julian's observation shows how important animation and activity is to delivering regeneration. And that animation - the events you put on - do not need to be pasteurised for middle-class sensibilities or to indulge the prejudices of Guardian-reading folk. They must have variety, edge and excitement. A sense of risk and a challenge to the normal expectations of a city centre event.

I am delighted that the Park at the Heart is now to go ahead - it will transform the centre of the city and will create a new stage for events, animation and excitement. I want to see a great bandstand - what else for a park - so we can feature Bradford's brass bands. After all, they are the best in the world. And also to feature new music whether jazz, indie, punk or the sounds of Bradford's young asians.

So let's not wallow in the grumpy old man, glass half empty, depressing, "It'll never work" attitude - let's get on and have some fun in our city centre!

Monday, 10 August 2009

We need free trade in food not "food security" to feed the world

Today the Government released its "food security" strategy with much hurrah. Hilary Benn - MP for one of the UK's least rural constituencies, Leeds Central - made much noise about the environment, buying British and unspecified "threats" to food supplies. And favoured academics like Professor Tim Lang popped up on the TV and radio to lecture us about our eating habits, the environment and food safety.

But nobody challenges the Government's facts or asks about the real problem - it's a given that we need to grow more of our own food. That farming subsidies are benign. And that agricultural protection is important because of food security. We wouldn't want to depend on all those nasty foreigners for our food now would we?

At the same time the "food security" strategy frightens us by describing how a vastly increased world population will - like locusts - devour everything. So we stop them by not importing or exporting food? That's going to help!

I have a suggestion Hilary - the world produces enough food to feed current populations and, if we stop trying to grow petrol as well, we can feed a substantially bigger population. But only if we improve the distribution of food across the world. To do this we use a well tried and efficient mechanism call free trade. So scrap the Common Agricultural Policy, remove the immoral trade barriers preventing third world producers from accessing western markets and stop dumping our surpluses on developing markets and in doing so destroying those markets.

And while you're at it Hilary stop the food safety fascists trying to stop artisan food production in England - when did someone last die from eating cheese made from unpasteurised milk? Why can't the farmer slaughter his own meat? And when are you going to stop supermarkets aggressively forcing low quality standards and homogenisation on small producers?

Saturday, 8 August 2009

A road safety strategy should be about reducing road casuaties? Not according to some!

Cullingworth will soon be further adorned by Vehicle Activated Signs (VAS) telling us to slow down as we enter the village - initially from Bingley & Keighley. Leaving aside that one of these signs - at Cow House - is in perhaps the daftest location one could imagine (plonking something that intermittently flashes on and off just six feet from someones bedroom window is not really appropriate), I have been thinking about the way in which we approach road safety. And crucially whether, in responding to the calls from local people, we spend money in places where there are few if any injury accidents.

Steve Thornton, Chair of the West Yorkshire Safer Roads Partnership recently criticised the Government's proposed approach to road safety as concentrating too much on reducing road injuries. Now far be it for me to criticise Mr Thornton - who is after all an expert - but isn't a road safety strategy absolutely about reducing road injuries? There is no "wider context" - the object is to reduce the death and injury toll on our roads and anything else is just cant.

And (no surprises here) the West Yorkshire Safer Roads Partnership is one of those obscure, unaccountable bodies which doesn't meet in public, doesn't say when it meets and doesn't publish any minutes, budgets or other operational information. Yet its "Chair" - an unelected official - gets a very public platform to criticise the very sensible suggestion that road safety is on the roads!

Friday, 7 August 2009

The Friday Fungus - a little woodland poultry!

Chicken-of-the-woods or Sulphur Shelf (Laetiporus sulphureous) is described in Collins Wild Guide to Mushrooms and Toadstools as inedible - something of a surprise to all those who have eaten this fantastic fungus! The secret - as is usually the case with edible mushrooms - is to eat it fresh and young. And it can be very big - especially in North America (typical bloody yanks!) with up to 50lb being harvested from just one tree!
If you want a little curiosity for your garden and have a big hardwood stump or a large log the lovely folk at Gourmet Woodland Mushrooms will sell you some plugs so you can grow your own woodland poultry - with all the instructions! You'll have to wait a year or two for a harvest but think of that wonderful fake chicken casserole at the end! If you're heading out into the woods for your sulphur polypore two little warnings - only harvest the fresh fungus and don't collect fungus from yew trees as they will make you ill! Enjoy!

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Are we a nation of philistines?

The Keighley News this week features the tale of Jordan Rhodes, a talented teenage dancer who can't get funding to pursue her training - but can't be funded because the course she's heading for is a 'diploma' not a 'degree'. Had she headed off to some degree in "dance studies" or "arts marketing" our Government would fund her and she could access student loans. But actually learning how to dance? No, won't fund that!

We spend time and money supporting specialist performing arts schools such as Parkside in Cullingworth but when these schools do their job of producing talented young people we stop them pursuing perfomance courses because they're not "degrees". Frankly I'd rather a single talented girl or boy like Jordan than the hundreds of journalism, media studies and marketing graduates churned out by the former polytechnics.

We really are a nation of philistines!

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

"Shameless" or shameful - dealing with anti-social families

There have always been problem families – you know the ones that have anti-social children looked after by anti-social parents. These families provide a headache for public services out of all proportion to their numbers – and, as any local politician will know, “something must be done”!

The latest “something must be done” initiative from the increasingly authoritarian Ed Balls is the ‘sin bin’ – an extension of intensive family intervention to include 24-hour surveillance of the family’s activities and described by Balls as '…pretty tough and non-negotiable support for families to get to the root of the problem.' And using CCTV inside the home is a good way to achieve this?

My concern with this isn’t that the worst families are identified and targeted with “intensive support” – this approach has been around for a while having started with NCH projects in Scotland and the North West. No, the problem is the manner in which the aggressive, final option has been brought forward – it is presented by Balls as the primary option not as a last resort. Instead of an intensive ‘carrot & stick’ we just get stick – and lots of it!

If we are to begin reducing the number and impact of problem families – we’ll never get rid of them entirely – we need both a long-term and a short-term policy approach. And developing the right policies must start with understanding what goes on “between the ears” of adults in the target families. These families are:

Poorly educated with low skill levels
Lacking in self-esteem, confidence and personal capacity
Often both victims and perpetrators of anti-social behaviour
Dominated by addictive individuals – drink, drugs, violence

I don’t see how sticking a camera in the faces of these families addresses any of these problems – yes, we get a short term fix by stopping them offending. But at the end of any programme they still have the personal problems and challenges that created the problem in the first place.

A policy platform might look a bit like this:


Intensive support including where needed fostering, respite and high quality childcare

Audit of problems such as drink, drugs and violence and provision of appropriate interventions
Provision of personal development coaching – individually, in groups and as whole families

Remedial skills and education for adults and older children plus early support for pre-school children

Use of jobs and training programmes linked to in-work support for those able to secure employment

Application of ASBOs and other available orders as a control mechanism for the programme by allowing enforcement of attendance


Development of small education units in target areas – breaking away from the vast, intimidating schools that dominate education provision in deprived communities

Re-establishing a permanent, physical, estate-based presence for police, probation, social services and other support services

Creating wrap-around family and youth support with a strong presence within the community

Addressing the barriers to work, stable families and behaviour within the benefits system

None of this requires that we treat these families as unruly zoo animals or ignore the need for tough action to prevent bad behaviour. It does require us to deal with the complicated set of problems – drugs, drink, sexual violence, illiteracy, ignorance and ill-humour – that typify these families. And we should remember that most of the families we’re dealing with aren’t bright enough to be “Shameless”!

Monday, 3 August 2009

Why do you go to the supermarket when you can get food like this in Bradford's Markets?

Solly's Fruit & Veg, John Street Market (Oastler Centre), Bradford - seen here on tour at Haworth Fine Food Festival. And you go to the supermarket to buy slimy, overpackaged veg? This weekend get down to John Street market or, if you've time, toddle across to Ilkley for yet another food festival - way better than adding a few more farthings to Tesco's profits!

Saturday, 1 August 2009

How many supermarkets can one small town take?

The fine town of Keighley is enjoying - if that's the right word - a new ASDA superstore. This vast new addition to the town's shopping offer is situated just off the town centre (so people no longer have to fight the traffic) and was crammed today with customers - well the car park was very full!

So what's the problem? Well Keighley already has...Morrisons, Sainsbury, Iceland, Aldi, Netto and Co-op. And they all seemed busy today as well! And if this is so where is the new ASDA getting all that business from?

I can tell you - it comes from neighbouring towns without a supermarket or with a smaller store - Bingley, Steeton, Crosshills, Glusburn - and from shoppers taking advantage of the cheap clothes, household goods and other non-food products that adorn ASDA's shelves.

Keighley gets 400 low grade jobs (a lot of them part time) at the expense of businesses and jobs elsewhere in the town and in surrounding communities - perhaps as many as 200 jobs will go. Will we see Keighley Market decline again? And smaller retailers in the town close for lack of footfall?

Another victory for our stupid planning system. Another place compromised by the strong arm tactics of the big supermarkets. And remember - if the choice had been left to local decision-makers there would not be this new blight on Keighley!