Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Yank your carrots

An American review of the new 'flexibound' 2019 edition of the book The Half-Hour Allotment reveals a difference between the UK and the USA:

as I sat down to read the book — with its beautiful photographs of vegetables and gardens that included flowers for bouquets, and ways to prepare the soil — I realized it had a British publisher and the allotments being talked about were garden spaces away from the house.

When talking to Americans, conveying the idea of allotments needs something like the phrase "vegetable gardens elsewhere in the town" or "the town's vegetable-growing gardens".

Young 'castle

The top 10 UK hotspots for young people, which are seeing the largest relative increases in their population of 18-34-year-olds, are:

8) Newcastle-under-Lyme - 1.74%

Interesting. Though I'd guess a chunk of that could be due to the NHS recruiting more young nurses for the University Hospital, and expansion at Keele. I doubt it's about hipsters downshifting from Stoke Newington to the edge of Stoke.

Friday, 17 January 2020

Thursday, 2 January 2020

It's a gas...

Wondering what the puzzling "hydrogen" commitment was, in the Conservative manifesto's green policies? Turns out it's happening now, and locally in a major pilot at Keele University in North Staffordshire. Hydrogen is being "blended" into the existing natural-gas supply for the Keele campus. It's blended in at 20%, thus making the gas supply go further and be greener. Here we see an engineer fine-tuning one of the hydrogen-blended boilers:

Friday, 13 December 2019

Free Saplings

The Woodland Trust has Free Trees for Schools and Communities. All the trees are "sourced and grown in the UK and Ireland", and they come in matched variety packs matched to specific situations. You've now missed their "delivery in March 2020" deadline, but:

"Applications will be live again on 6th January 2020 for saplings to be delivered in November 2020, so keep your eyes peeled and get in quick."

Get woke, lose Stoke...

Well, well... the big blue Boris landslide actually happened, as predicted by the early YouGov polls. It was the later 'hung Parliament' / 'narrow victory' polls that were astray, albeit in a very useful way — because they helped get the Conservative vote out on a cold wet day in winter. Staffordshire and Stoke is now pure blue:

It's a fine result for Stoke, as we now have three MPs working with the government rather than sniping at it vainly from the sidelines. Congratulations to all concerned, including poor old Nigel Farage. Without Farage we'd have neither Brexit nor Boris. It was Farage standing up his Brexit Party that forced the Conservatives to elect Boris as leader, something they'd never have done otherwise. Still, I hear that Farage is now off to do the vital job of helping to re-elect President Trump, so that's a good result too.

Even places down in South Staffordshire, like Dudley and both sides of West Bromwich and big chunks of Wolverhampton, have gone Conservative. Which would have been utterly unimaginable just a few years ago. But then... so was the idea that Stoke-on-Trent would be Conservative at both the City Council and MP level by 2020. And yet, here we are. Blue through and through.

Which means that our Brexit will be done and dusted by the early Spring, bar some annoying elongated exit periods forced on us by the deal. All the defector MPs lost their seats, along with Labour MPs who voted to stop Brexit. Hopefully all those who have been afflicted with Brexit Derangement Syndrome will now wake up from their zombification, and perhaps even be able start some healing by the springtime.

Nice side-effects of Boris's victory are that (despite some strange moaning today) the monster of Scottish independence will likely sink once again into the gloomy depths of Loch Ness, and Northern Ireland appears to have been put back in its box. Another bonus is that there will likely be "a Brexit bounce" in the economy from January to September 2020. As pent up investment and development, slowed or put on hold for all those miserable pre-Brexit years, will come pouring through and surge into the economy. It may even be that the new government will have to be careful not to let the economy overheat, especially as the deals with the USA and Australia and the Commonwealth take effect. Online freelancers in particular will want to start reducing their costs / boosting their income now, in anticipation of a double-whammy of changed $-£ exchange rates and increased mortgage rates by Autumn 2020.

Let's hope that once Brexit and Scotland and other matters are out of the way, the Conservative government can rise to the challenge rather than slump into complacency and a 'lurch to the bland'. Showing that they can tackle the real issues: crime and grime and policing, tax reform, transport and roads, doctors, housing, free speech in the arts and education, beautifying our towns and cities, and more. Maybe they'll even finally get around to doing something about litter, graffiti and untrained dogs. Now that really would be a Conservative victory.

Monday, 9 December 2019

General Election: a view from Stoke

It's now three days to the General Election, and to this particular befuddled hobbit the whole thing seems like a mighty imposition. Still, I shall reluctantly trudge out in the cold and damp to vote on Thursday.

Talking of hobbits, our political landscape now curiously resembles The Lord of the Rings. With Corbyn as Saruman, who through a vain desire to do good has turned to evil, all the while unwittingly serving 'the dark power in the East' in Mordor. Given half a chance, Saruman and his henchmen will ruin the Shire, and his sly words have already done much damage. One can see Boris as Sam and Javid as Frodo, struggling through mountains of dumb orcs and 'Project Fear' wraiths to get the Ring of Brexit across the bitter wastes to Mount Doom... and there to destroy it forever. Who is Gandalf? Well, put Jacob Rees-Mogg in white robes and a long beard and he'd fit the part quite well. Where is Aragorn? Sadly we have no Aragorn, with Prince Charles being more of a curious mix of Wormtongue ("doom... doooom... coming soon...") and good old Radagast the herbalist who talks to plants.

But enough of the strained Lord of the Rings comparisons. I have a horrible suspicion that the Election polls are wrong, as polls always are. When will the media and politicians learn that? The polls are always wrong, something that's been proved time after time over the last ten years.

As such, and from the perspective of Stoke-on-Trent Central, I think that the Election will be a far more close-run thing than London media pundits imagine. We may have another narrow escape from Corbyn and hard socialism. With another hung Parliament, and another four years of dismal Brexit betrayal through endless delay. At best I think Boris's government will be very lucky to get a working majority of perhaps 28, and that the Brexit Party could effectively hold the balance of power. Scotland, various forms of vote-splitting in key marginals, and another tactical youth surge in favour of a toxic mix of hard socialism and hateful antisemitism, will likely see to that.

Anyway, I'd love to be proved wrong by Friday. But that's my prediction.

What of my own Stoke Central constituency? I really can't see the huge Labour block vote being overturned here, even with a relatively lacklustre Labour candidate. Last time even a co-ordinated mass swing of UKIP voters to the Conservatives couldn't ding the Labour majority. UKIP has since imploded and so that won't happen again. As such, a vote for the Brexit Party seems the only chance in Stoke Central. On the assumption that a great many former Labour voters will want to defect from their dismal party, but won't be emotionally able to bring themselves to vote for the Conservatives. Thus if they get out to vote at all then they'll mostly cast a protest-vote for the Brexit Party. All would then depend on local Conservatives also strategically switching their vote to the Brexit Party. There are many who are utterly fed up with the Conservative Party's wishy-washy stances on things, even under Boris. As such, their conscience may find it easy to cast a one-time vote for the Brexit Party.

In Stoke South the election opened with the curious de-selection of the Lib Dem candidate, supposedly for being too moral and staunch in his Christian beliefs. I suspect the real reason was that someone finally realised that he had been quite popular, despite his very low media profile when a Labour MP. And that thus he could split the anti-Conservative vote if he ran as a Lib Dem in 2019. Which meant his abrupt last-minute removal, with a bit of snide gesture-politics thrown in for good measure. Stoke South is now a simple three-way fight, Conservative, Labour, Lib Dems. The Labour guy was parachuted in, and when last heard of was cluelessly calling Stoke-on-Trent a "town" rather than a city. As such I'd suspect that the Conservative candidate, the excellent local man Jack Brereton, is relatively safe there.

In Stoke North, who knows? I suspect Ruth Smeeth will be re-elected, though only-just and largely for herself rather than for the Labour Party. Also because the Brexit Party will split the anti-Labour vote there. But there are other factors at play. For those who think the constituency is just about Burslem, it's not. It's a curiously tangled constituency, running from urban grot in Cobridge through Burslem and up to the wind-swept rural hilltops at Goldenhill and then down into leafy Kidsgrove. A lot will depend on votes from the more rural fringes, in such a finely-balanced election. Small votes for the Lib Dems and Greens may also help tip the balance. If Smeeth wins then it'll be a close-run thing.

Staffordshire Moorlands should be a fairly safe seat, with the bonus of a likeable and cuddly Conservative candidate. Bill Cash is of course safe in Stone. There is no Brexit Party candidate in the Moorlands, nor in Stoke-on-Trent South, Stone, Stafford and Congleton.

The student and NHS staff block-votes, and the Brexit Party as vote-splitters, will probably be enough to keep Newcastle-under-Lyme in the hands of Labour. But it will likely be a close run thing. The fact that the sour hard-nosed Paul Farrelly has gone will probably actually help the Labour vote, if their new candidate has more personal charm.

Crewe & Nantwich is being heavily contested, and there's even a brave Libertarian candidate there. How this seat, and Stafford, will go seems like anyone's guess.

But I'll probably be completely wrong about all this, and the Conservatives will romp home with a huge Falklands War-type landslide as per the early polls.

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

"Make mine a Spicy Poodle Surprise..."

Eww... I heard the other day that the eating of dogs and cats appears to be now effectively permitted in the UK, by order of the Ministry of Justice.

I thought it might be 'fake news' and on investigation I find it's a little more complex than that, though not by much. Civil servants have blocked the good intentions of the Environment Minister who had wanted a ban. But effectively, it seems that Poodle Pie is now legal on the menu — just as long as Fluffy is slaughtered on the premises and the meat isn't transported in a vehicle.

When the Climate Police come to take away your Fluffy and Tiddles, make sure to prod your pies and pasties with extra care a few weeks later.

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Stoke fined

A bit of Stoke town has had a makeover, and it's looking rather fine. The city has also just landed £2 million from the government, for similar heritage shopfront restoration. Apparently it'll mostly be spent round Spode in Stoke.

Before and after:

Now, if only they can do something about the traffic...

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Badgered

So the badger cull comes to Staffordshire and Cheshire, and parts of Shropshire, in a big way. Looks like about 2,200 minimum are to be taken out of Staffordshire, in addition to small zones in Staffordshire which were apparently culled for the first time in 2018. Farmers' Weekly talks of two new 'zones' in Staffordshire (The Sentinel says "three"), but farmers didn't get the Derbyshire zone they wanted. Without being able to find the actual maps (apparently secret) I'd vaguely guess around 900 in North Staffordshire, if we even have one of Staffordshire's new zones?

Oh well... it'll make for some happy hedgehogs next spring, at least, when they wake from hibernation to find the badgers gone.


Graph: Natural England, 2019.