Monday, December 31, 2007

Those New Year Resolutions in Full...


This year, I've decided to raise my game as far as New Year Resolutions are concerned. So rather than mess about with the simply unachievable, this year I'm aiming for a spectacularly unlikely lifestyle change. I'm going to learn to love opera. Maybe even ballet too.

This seems to fit nicely with my Cabinet role which includes culture. There are, however, hidden perils for a native Bristolian such as myself.

To understand why, you have to understand something about the Bristol accent, known variously as 'Bristolese' or simply "Bristle". A variant of the standard West Country burr, Bristle makes speakers sound like they have a permanently blocked nose. Its unique feature is the "Bristol L", whereby natives add an 'l' on to the end of words ending with the letter 'a'. So Formica becomes Formical, a Ford Astra is a Ford Astral, films come from Americal and so on.

(As a youngster, I distinctly remember being confused about the fact that there were two different meanings of the word aeriel - there was your car aeriel, of course, and the areal in which you lived).

And so to the opera link. In the 70's, I can also recall BBC Nationwide sending down metropolitan reporters to accost unsuspecting Bristolians outside the Hippodrome, and ask them to read the opera poster outside. Invariably they said something like "The Carl Rosal Operal presents Carl Orff's "Carminal Branal" before the passer-by stopped and looked quizzically, wondering why the reporter was sniggering.

So I'll have to brush up my pronunctiation before attempting Toscal or Rigolletol. I'll keep you posted on how I get on.

A day at the races

More hard-earned cash goes west...

I guess we could have more extreme family Christmas rituals. Every year, about now, the Echo is full of half-naked madmen and women cavorting in the waves at Redcar, immediately before being carted off to hospital with hypothermia (they don't tell you that bit).

So three-and-a-half hours freezing at Sedgefield Races is probably getting off lightly. I'm not a racegoer, and coming away anything less than £20 lighter in the wallet I count as a success (excluding the hefty entrance money).

One of my uncles (who did know his horses) used to say dismissively that betting each-way was not proper gambling. So as my strategy involves putting said each-way bets on grey horses and those with nose bands (because they look cuter, somehow) I probably did well to leave just £9 down after a couple of unlikely thirds.

Finally, a note about Christmas left-overs. Whilst you were moaning about turkey sandwiches and turkey curry, spare a thought for those of us are meat eaters in predominantly vegetarian households. This year at the races I was treated to Quorn "Turkey and Cranberry-style" slices in my bread buns. Does life get any better...?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas is shrinking!

A very happy Christmas to one and all. We're well and truly settled in MSG now, and thanks for your kind thoughts and wishes as we went through that miserable patch getting set up.

It was no surprise to read that there was a last minute surge in spending just before Christmas. Retailers know they can rely on characters like myself - Desperate Dads - to wander round the shops buying gifts almost at random, guiltily spending ridiculous sums whilst promising themselves they'll be better organised next year.

This year I even managed to find myself in Past Times on the High Row. Past Times is a brand we can afford to pass 364 days of the year. Come Christmas Eve, however, with the clock ticking and the sweat running down our brows, even its faux Victoriana seems worth a second look, as we frantically puzzle what to buy that last "difficult" aunt or uncle. Then, they're lifesavers.

Which brings me to the incredible shrinking Christmas. The boys' Christmas stockings, of course, as are ample as ever. Presents for the stockings in contrast, have diminished in size markedly. Once, before the Fat Police stepped in, there could be a selection box or two. Annuals too were a popular staple, but they seem to be a thing of the 70's and 80's.

So last night Sandy and I sat down looking at a little pile of Top Trumps, games for the Nintendo and puzzle books worrying that they'd be lost in AJ's stocking. We needn't have worried, of course - AJ was just chuffed that Santa had been, eaten his mince pie, drunk his Pinot Grigio (ahem) and fed Rudolph the carrot.

So have a great Christmas everyone - I'll be blogging again before January looking back on a momentous year for Darlington.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

As easy as ABC

I learnt early on in student politics that mastery of the rules of debate was crucial to any wider success. In the Labour Party, anyone wishing to win a procedural argument need only speak airily of Citrine to stand a good chance of carrying the day.

This isn't the case for the knuckle-dragging brethren in the BNP, where they do things rather differently. Here's the Guardian's account of a recent meeting;

Tensions between modernisers and hardliners boiled over on Monday when it emerged that about 50 councillors and organisers had resigned and declared themselves to be the "Real BNP". That was followed by showdown meetings between Griffin and the rebels. At one, in the Gun and Dog pub in Leeds on Tuesday, a witness described how the meeting descended into chaos when one of the rebels smashed a glass and threatened to attack Griffin supporter Mark Collett.

I keep a weather eye on the BNP website (showering afterwards, of course) and there seems every chance that the fascist movement will suffer a split mirroring their divisions in the late 1970's and early 80's. It couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of evil thugs, of course.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Getting back online

Thanks for sticking with me - my full internet connnection should be back up and running on Friday.

As well as an update, I'll have news of an exciting new web-based politics show launching in the North East in the New Year. Keep watching.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Making a crisis out of a drama

For what seems like forever, we've been trying to move house (within the Borough boundary, of course). Finally, a sale and purchase were agreed, with the moving date set for this Thursday.

Then - catastrophe on Monday as we had to pull out of the house we were purchasing in Dinsdale, potentially leaving us homeless by the end of the week, with the sale of our property all agreed.

Fortunately, thanks to the staff at Countrywide Lettings, who proved extremely accommodating (boom, boom) we'll have a roof over our heads on Thursday. Our address will be;

1 The Beeches,
Middleton St. George,
Darlington DL2 1GD.

My home number will be 01325 335365 (as of Thursday pm). My mobile number will continue as at present.

Councillor duties in the ward and wider will of course continue as normal. In the absence of broadband at the house, however, blogging will become rather less frequent, although do keep coming back, as I'll try and blog from the Town Hall.

This wasn't what we wanted immediately before Christmas, but as I pointed out to James, there are many families who are genuinely homeless at this time of year, and we can be thankful for the position we're in. Hopefully, the tree will be up by Sunday!

Monday, December 10, 2007


I understand that Cllrs. Heather Scott and Charles Johnson took offence at the post regarding Full Council. On learning this, I took the offending material down immediately - I don't do character assassination, and that isn't what this blog is about. The post was simply intended to be light-hearted.

As I've stated before, if there is anything here which you find offensive, simply email me and I will sort.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Nominations for Tory 'sacrificial lamb' close

I see from the Conservative Home website that nominations for the Tory PPC for Darlington at the next election closed on Thursday.

The comments to the post are instructive - for all the huffing and puffing by the Tories in what has admittedly been a bad few weeks for Labour, they regard Darlington as a 'no hope' seat, on a par with Sedgefield and Middlesbrough (it's in 'tranche 5, phase 3' of their process) . Remember, for a long time Darlington was seen as a marginal seat, and keenly fought over by both the main parties. It's evidence of the mountain the Tories have to climb if they're to form a majority next time.

My sources suggest that a local candidate is favourite to get the nomination. Given the poor chances the party seems to think it has in Darlington, little wonder that they can't attract a talented young thruster from elsewhere.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Seeing Santa

To Hurworth this afternoon, where I was honoured to have been invited to open the Christmas Fair.

The Grange was packed, and everyone was in a festive mood. Ian, Michelle, Stan and all the other countless people who work behind the scenes had done a fantastic job, and money was changing hands left, right and centre.

At Council on Thursday, Heather Scott had cheekily raised my comment about having to go out of town for AJ to see Santa was somehow a vote of No Confidence in town centre businesses - pretty rich coming from a party which has consistently run Darlington down over the past 16 years in an attempt to gain easy political advantage. Don't forget it was recently-retired Tory Cllr. Sheila Brown who used to proudly boast that she never shopped in Darlington.

So I'm sure Heather will be relieved to learn that AJ met Santa this afternoon at the fair. In total, we spent about a tenner there, so no great black hole in town centre retailers' trade in the run-up to Christmas. I will be raising with officers, however, what we can do to coax Santa back to Darlington for 2009.

Finally, the organisers were kind enough to give me a nice bottle of wine for my troubles this afternoon (and Sandy some flowers). I guess in the current climate I will have to register that as a gift with the Town Hall first thing on Monday morning....

National Policy Forum

Up at 4.30am yesterday for the train to West London to December's NPF. The Party has got into the habit of being extremely 'cloak and dagger' about venues for meetings. On this occasion indeed, I was never formally told the precise location, so I set off hopefully for 'West London' guessing that we would stuck out at Heathrow again.

(As those of you with finely-tuned politcal antennae may have picked up, the Party is going through, ahem, some little local difficulties at the moment, so it was easy to forgive staff for the admin slip-ups).

There was a rather febrile mood amongst delegates - some I think had turned up just to see if anything else could go wrong. Harriet and Gordon spoke well, I thought, although in the private session afterwards, when he was blunter about the political challenges ahead, Gordon's manner was distinctly reminiscent of Tony - subconsciously I'm sure. Afterwards, Gordon shook a lot of hands - we were sitting in the front row, and when Gordon enquired of my colleague Nick Forbes where he was from, and he replied "the North East", Gordon looked as though he wanted to wipe his hand somewhere.

Still the announcement that we are pressing ahead with party funding reform was entirely sensible, I thought. Peter Riddell wrote in the Times that no progress is possible whilst investigations are proceedings, but the Government has to show leadership, and we can't allow the Tories to act as roadblocks to reform. And I think that the vast majority of people will be on the side of the Government when it presses for limits on spending both locally and nationally - no-one apart from the Tories wants to see further escalation of the funding 'arms race' that has driven all the parties to solicit funds from rich backers.

It's a shame that it's taken the Abrahams revelations to prompt it, but if proper arrangements for party funding, including regulated public support, comes from this week's events, then perhaps it will have been worth it.