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


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.

Thursday 18 July 2019


This looks useful. A new British app that makes it easy to... 1) report fly-tipping and dumping, and 2) get the best quote for removal, from a proper licensed Waste Carrier.

Friday 28 June 2019

Summer Fayre at Stoke Minster

Summer Fayre at Stoke Minster. Saturday 6th July 2019, from 11am to 2pm.

With prizes, tombola, gifts and refreshments. Featuring Penkhull Village Brass.

Thursday 16 May 2019

Local Election results at last

It's taken a long while but we finally have the done-and-dusted result from the recent local council elections in Stoke-on-Trent.

The Conservatives more than doubled their councillors in Stoke-on-Trent on the night, and now have 15 members on the council. Having concluded talks with the City Independent group councillors, it's being reported that the Conservatives will continue to work with Independents to run the city. Abi Brown (Conservative) will be the council leader for the city.

There was quite a lot of variation in turn-out for the local elections, by the look of it, from pathetically quiet in Hanley Park to what could well have been surges and queues in Baddeley.

Elsewhere, the Conservatives lost Staffordshire Moorlands District Council to 'no overall control', but it's pleasing to see that the questionable Labour candidate there lost having had a mere 77 votes. There's nothing in the news yet about who, if anyone, will be in control of a Staffordshire Moorlands coalition. I guess they're still negotiating.

The Conservatives also won the single seat that was up for grabs in a by-election over in Newcastle-under-Lyme (Maer and Whitmore Ward).

So it's on to the MEPs, next.

Thursday 9 May 2019

EU elections for North Staffordshire - who's standing?

Ok, with the Council election out the way it's now time to take a look at who Stoke and North Staffordshire gets to vote for on 23rd of May. According to the Returning Officers' official list, the parties standing EU MEP candidates for the West Midlands are, A-Z:

   Change UK — The Independent Group.
   Conservative and Unionist Party.
   Green Party.
   Labour Party.
   Liberal Democrats.
   The Brexit Party.
   UK Independence Party (UKIP).

The Brexit Party is Nigel Farage's new party, and he aims to ensure we get the Brexit we voted for.

Change UK is also an unfamiliar party name, but it seems they're the pro-EU hard-liners who recently broke with the Labour Party.

The rest of the parties you'll already be wearily familiar with.

Unlike normal elections, we don't vote for an individual candidate but rather for a Party. Each Party puts up a slate of candidates for each large region (West Midlands, North West etc). After that it all gets a bit hazy and the final results seem to involve lots of maths and proportional representation juggling — which I have no inclination to delve into. Apparently it takes forever to calculate, and the results can come a week later. But it does mean that our votes matters a bit more, more than if you're stuck in a UK Parliamentary seat with an overwhelming majority.

Old elms, new elms

Got an elm tree near you? These giants once towered over the English landscape, and are commonly supposed to have all died of imported Dutch Elm Disease in the late 1970s. But a few survived the blight.

The Great British Elm Search is mapping the still-living elm trees on its Elms Map and they want to hear about more.

"The Great British Elm Search is recording mature elm trees across the UK to build an accessible, public database that records the state of the elm population and potentially disease-resistant trees. Your help is needed to record mature elms and update the records, which are verified by a group of elm experts."

The above map shows the old trees. There's another map that shows where the newly bred disease-resistant elm saplings have been planted.

The new plantings are looking a bit sparse for North Staffordshire, though. It's still only a pioneering experiment to bring back the elms, but it would be good to see North Staffordshire doing our bit and a dozen new elms saplings springing up in and around the city.

Friday 26 April 2019

2nd May election in Stoke - who's standing?

Right, then, it's time to take a look at who's standing in the Local Council Elections on 2nd May 2019. The page that pops up on search is Stoke-on-Trent City Council's list by election ward.

On looking at this page, it would seem that Council doesn't yet appear to have a candidate lists online for Hanley Park and Shelton, nor Hartshill, Penkhull and Boothen and a number of others wards. They seem to be cutting it a bit fine, re: this page and the approaching date. A resident might look at the page and wrongly think only half the Council was up for election, which could skew the vote.

However, if you know it's actually a full council election, and you go to their A-Z Directory for the elections, and you known the exact name of your ward (most people don't)... then you can get to lists of candidates for the missing wards such as Hanley Park and Shelton and Hartshill and Basford and Penkhull and Stoke...

But even then, looking at the current listings, the urban city and its surrounding suburban wards don't look very 'hot' at all. There's hardly any choice in Etruria and Hanley / Hartshill and Basford / Hanley Park and Shelton — it's all just a straight: Conservative, Labour or Independent choice. The same goes for both Burslem wards. I spotted about three or four Greens on the lists, including one in Penkhull and Stoke town (presumably hoping for a student vote), and a few hardy UKIP-ers are hoping for votes on estates like Bentilee, Stanfields and a part of the Meir.

Over in the Staffordshire Moorlands, the Labour Party has chosen a very questionable candidate. One has to assume this choice reflects the will and sentiment of the local Labour Party? Will other local Labour candidates, in Stoke and elsewhere, be speaking out about this?

Tuesday 26 March 2019

A new 'Garden Town' north of Stafford.

A new 'garden town' has been announced: "Meecebrook, in the north of Stafford borough - about 10,000 homes".

What's a 'garden town', then? Sometimes also called an 'eco-town'. It's all rather nebulous, but the best I can figure is this.

Properly planned, from the ground up, to:

* fit naturally into the existing natural environment.
* add enhancements to the existing natural environment.

* learns all the lessons from the past British 'garden cities' and new settlements such as Bournville, Poundbury etc.
* designed for the real British weather, not some architect's 'flat-roof and pastel stucco' blue-skies modernist/postmodernist Mediterranean fantasyland.

* high-quality housing, with an eye for beauty and design.
* homes that don't all look the same.
* proper shops with proper frontages.
* use of local / natural building materials.
* meaningful public art.
* widely employs craft-based apprentices during the building.

* cars discouraged.
* locally accessible jobs, via cycling and walking.
* 'work from home' over superfast Internet.
* local supply of the workers needed to manage the abundant gardens, parks, open spaces.

* allotments.
* community centres, local shops and doctors.
* good local schools and home-schooling facilities.
* community networks, autonomous groups, has a volunteering culture.
* robust ongoing control of noise, dogs, litter and other annoyances.

* community ownership of the land.
* the town is locally led, once up and running.
* ongoing control of ugliness and tackiness re: shop fronts, hoardings, signage.

* wider green belt protection.
* local heritage assets protection in the surrounding district.

In terms of local materials, it would be great to see extensive use of hard-wearing tiles and other ceramics from Stoke-on-Trent.

Tuesday 19 March 2019

Leaf it out! - leaf blower bans

Bans on leaf blowers are coming into force in places across the USA, as America nudges out of a deep winter and toward another summer. Most notably bans in many parts of California and across Washington.

Let's hope this spreads, and to the UK. I'm usually not one for having the state ban things, but anything that reduces the growing amounts of annoying noise in a suburban summer must be good. Such blowers and strimmers are also old, usually highly inefficient two-stroke petrol engine technology, and are unhealthy in all sorts of ways for those using them. Not least in terms of hearing damage. Many blowers and strimmers are said to get up to 80-100 decibels.

I can't imagine that the local sensitive-eared pet population or wildlife finds them a welcome addition to the landscape, either.

Some places are going even further and banning all noisy landscaping and cutting tools in summer, expecting contractors and gardeners to switch to battery-power or hand-tools or a mix of both. Should Stoke follow their lead?

Thursday 14 March 2019

All aboard!

Nice one. Stoke-on-Trent wins £5.6m for train station improvements – and there's a bid for another £50m.

How local MPs voted, to stop a 'No Deal' Brexit

Last night's votes in Parliament, by local MPs:

* MPs who voted to stop a 'No Deal' Brexit were:

Ruth Smeeth (Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North).
Gareth Snell (Labour, Stoke-on-Trent Central).
Paul Farrelly (Labour, Newcastle-under-Lyme).
Laura Smith (Labour, Crewe and Nantwich).

* MPs who voted to allow a 'No Deal' Brexit were:

Jack Brereton (Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent South).
Karen Bradley (Conservative, Staffordshire Moorlands).
William Cash (Conservative, Stone) (aka Bill Cash).
Fiona Bruce (Conservative, Congleton).

Monday 11 February 2019

The status of allotments held in trust

New in the Law Society Gazette, a detailed article on "The status of allotments".

As I understand it, putting it into simple language: there's been a new legal ruling that affects council allotments. If a local council was long ago given allotment land with words such as "to be held in trust as allotments for the labouring poor", then that purpose has to be stuck to by the council.

Very obvious, you might think. But apparently there have been claims from some council officials that 'charitable trusts on allotment land' was something abolished long ago. It wasn't, and the new ruling says: "The 1908 Act contained no express revocation of such trusts, its provisions did not prevent such trusts from continuing".

Why is this important? Because if land is "held in trust" then it can't be sold off. Nor can the council jack up the rents so high that poor people in a low-paid job can no longer afford to have a local allotment.

Tuesday 22 January 2019

Cop this

From this week's Spectator magazine: "West Midlands Police had failed to record 16,600 violent crimes a year, 22 per cent of the total, according to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary."

Saturday 19 January 2019

'Magic mushrooms' grow in abundance in Staffordshire

'Magic mushrooms' grow in abundance in Staffordshire:

"Specialists say the warmer weather means the psychedelic, naturally-occurring class-A drug has been found growing in large numbers across Staffordshire and Shropshire. Usually, the fungi, found on grasslands and pastures grazed by sheep due to the nutrient-rich manure, are long gone by this time of year, but the mild and wet weather means they have stuck around."

I am not quite sure what this mysterious "warmer weather" he's talking of is, as it seems like a normal winter to me. But I guess he means that until recently we hadn't had a severe cold snap with heavy ice and snow. But given the cold and ground-ice in the last few days I assume that all the Psilocybe semilanceata will have gone now for another year. If you've got these long thin-stalked nipple-shaped mushrooms in some grass on or near your allotment, then that's what they they are...