Thursday, October 31, 2013

And suddenly, it went dark... Day 1

Monday morning, the big storm that had wreaked havoc across the south-west was coming our way and, as I couldn't get to work anyway - all trains had been cancelled and I had decided to take a reading day so as not to waste it - I was talking to Ros when it suddenly went quiet.

The television, which had been on downstairs, was silent, so I tested a light switch. Nothing. So, I checked the fusebox, which seemed to be just fine. I popped outside to check our meter, which was out, so we had ourselves a power cut.

I learned from the last time that ringing UK Power Networks was pretty useless - they had told me to run a series of checks to test the household electrics despite the fact that I could see that the entire village was in darkness. However, they have a Twitter account, so I sent them a message.

They responded pretty quickly, even though they didn't seem to be aware that we had a problem, so, having begun to appreciate the scale of the damage across the county, I left it at that for a while.

Ros got away, as the train service across East Anglia began to run again, leaving me in a dark, cold house in the expectation that matters would return to normal shortly. I ordered a pizza for home delivery and waited...

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Sivuqaq: a love story

I admit that I have a fondness for animals, although not always the obvious ones. Sea otters, giraffe and orangutans are fairly obvious, I guess, but iguana, rhinos and aardvarks aren't. But I have discovered a new favourite.

Walruses are not exactly cute. They don't have the range of clever tricks that, say seals have. They aren't graceful on land, or dramatic in the water, but they have character. And, as someone who likes to describe himself as more walrus than gazelle, I find myself fascinated by them.

And so it was with some delight that I came across a documentary about walruses on BBC2 on Saturday night. Sivuqaq (he's the handsome devil on the right-hand side of the picture) is the hero of our story, with a range of delightful and charming habits, but with one flaw. Movie star, character actor - he was the walrus in 50 First Dates - but so far, not successful as a father. And, if I couldn't be what I am now, I suspect that I'd be quite happy being him.

Sadly, it's only on BBC i-player for another ten days, until 31 October, so I strongly recommend that you take some time to have a look.

You won't regret it...

Good(ish) news for Stowupland bus passengers

Following on from my story last month, it would appear that Galloways have decided that they might be able to run a bus service to Stowupland without subsidy, and will be introducing a new route 387 to replace First Group's route 87.

There are some particularly interesting features, with some extra buses in the morning to provide a half-hourly service during the morning rush (hourly otherwise), although the last bus leaves something to be desired if you're working regular office hours - it will run at 4.35 p.m. There will also be a Saturday service, again hourly, and again with a last bus from Stowmarket at 4.35 p.m.

Worse still, the last bus from Stowupland will leave at 2.45 p.m (Monday to Friday) or 3.15 p.m. (Saturday), which is not ideal. It is, however, better than nothing.

There are, it should be noted, a few later buses from Stowmarket on Galloway routes 384 and 456, but nothing to help if you want to leave Stowupland.

That leaves passengers dependent on the Suffolk Links Gipping North service, which I strongly recommend, which offers a demand responsive service, if not one that allows for spontaneous travel.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Editorial: think not what local government can do for you, but what you can do without...

This is a cross-posting from the Creeting St Peter Journal...

Recent announcements by both Mid Suffolk District Council and Suffolk County Council to the effect that they are both going to need to make hefty cuts in their expenditure to deal with reduced income from Whitehall can only mean one of three things. Either they will need to cut waste, raise Council Tax levels in real terms, or cut services.

Raising Council Tax levels isn't that easy. The insistence that any increase above a certain, arbitrary, centrally-defined amount triggers a referendum of voters means that local councillors are loathe to even try - running a campaign against an increase in your tax bill is pretty easy, and most local politicians would rather tell you what they think you would like to hear, i.e. you can have services and someone else will pay for them.

Naturally, if the media are to be believed, there are huge levels of waste in government which could be attacked to protect front line services. Sadly, whilst there is waste, it isn't necessarily caused by bad management, but by the fact that people want services supplied that, were they to have to pay for them directly, they might think twice about keeping.

And as for cutting services, well, most councillors would rather cut their own throats than tell you that's what is necessary. Even were they to be that honest, a political opponent will campaign against them promising to save whatever it is.

As an example, people like libraries. If perceived to be under threat, hundreds will demand that they be saved yet how many of them actually use them regularly? How many of those thousands of books are actually read by anyone? And in an era of Kindles and other e-readers, are library user figures likely to go up, or down? At what point do you accept that the cost of providing a service is too great for the benefits gleaned?

We have grown used, as a society, to the idea that someone else, usually government, will do things for us. Government will keep the streets tidy, so that we don't have to, it will maintain parts of our countryside for public use, build roads to make it easier for us to get places. Littering increases because, it doesn't matter, someone will come and clean the street, we take less care about our surroundings as someone else will, we grow used to having a direct route to places and worry less about the economic viability of having three routes out of a village.

And yet, we complain about the size of government, about its cost, about its remoteness from our communities.

Eventually, we will be forced to accept that, in order to maintain the services that really matter - health, education, social welfare, to name but three - peripheral services might have to go. The prize then goes to politicians who are willing to be honest with their electorate and engage them in the debate about what is core and what isn't. Here at the Creeting St Peter Journal, we're not holding our breath...

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A village gathers in anticipation of pie

Last year, our Parochial Church Council varied their usual village pub night, introducing homemade pie. Real ale, rabbit and pigeon pie, what could be better?

And so it was with some pleasure that I spotted, on the carpet at the bottom of the stairs a few weeks ago, a slip of paper announcing that there would be another one. I admit to having anticipated the event for some time and, this time, Ros would be able to attend too.

We were so enthusiastic indeed that we invited Ros's sister to join us, and at 7.30 p.m. sharp last night, we set off down The Lane, with plates and cutlery (as requested) in expectation of some very fine homemade pie indeed.

Unfortunately, there was no rabbit and pigeon this time, but the substitute venison pie, with a rich gravy, lived up to my fondest hopes, and the shepherd's pie was almost as excellent. Beer, supplied by Bartrams Brewery in Rougham, accompanied the pies well, and a good evening was had by all.

I'm not a baker of pies, more a consumer of them, but it was an excellent evening, with five pies to choose from - fish, chicken and vegetable, vegetable, shepherd's and venison - and if you ever happen to be in the neighbourhood for a future event, I highly recommend it.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Editorial: is this the first step towards the Business and Enterprise Park?

This is a cross-posting from the Creeting St Peter Journal...

The announcement of the initial public consultation on the Mill Lane Development Brief ends a lengthy 'phoney war' over what would happen to the area on the Creeting side of the A1120 link road, opposite the Tesco supermarket at Cedars Park. And, whilst it was inevitable that the emergence of the UK economy from recession would lead to increased activity, there were hopes that the entire project had gone away, perhaps for good.

However, the proposed development brief is broadly in line with the steer given by the Area Action Plan, including tiered warehousing as tall as 15 metres at the south-western corner, tapering to a relatively small 6 metres at the northern extent. As indicated three years ago, the current route over the A1120 on Creeting Road will be closed to vehicular traffic, with a link road joining Mill Lane just north of the Clamp Farm area to the A1120 link road opposite Tesco.

A wetland area adjoining the River Gipping is included, although access from the village will only be possible via often blocked footpaths to the river itself, or by walking (or driving) through the industrial estate, hardly likely to attract local foot traffic. In addition, phase 2 appears to cut off vehicular access to the Creeting Lakes fishery, something that may not suit Quiet Sports, who own it, or the residents of Braziers Hall, whose only access it currently is.

Phase 2 will, if built, also cut the footpath that joins the village with the edge of Cedars Park, something which appears to go unmentioned in what is, admittedly, only a first draft. Indeed, the vaunted cycle/footway to replace Mill Lane and Creeting Road East will be an rather unattractive journey between warehouses and... more warehouses. It appears, on the face of it, to be designed to maintain the pretence that a right of way exists, whilst making it unlikely that anyone will want to use it.

There is an opportunity for villagers to examine the plans more closely at an exhibition, unsurprisingly located at the Cedars Park Community Centre, a building probably little known to residents of Creeting St Peter, as the District Council clearly don't believe that it is a matter that they should be concerned about.

However, forewarned is forearmed, and as many residents as possible should attend the exhibition at Cedars Park Community Centre, Pintail Road, Stowmarket, IP14 5FP on Saturday 19th October from 12 noon to 4pm.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Take the last bus to Stowupland...

Last week's news that the Stowmarket Shuttle, or bus route 87 as it is more prosaically described, is to cease operating in November, is bad news for the residents of Stowupland in particular. It was bad enough when the through service to Needham Market and Ipswich was lost, even though the timetable did theoretically allow for a connection in Stowmarket to route 88, newly extended to Ipswich Hospital, but this does come as a blow.

An 87 bus in Stowupland, soon to be history?
Whilst campaigning in the village two years ago as part of my candidacy for the District Council, I highlighted the loss of the Sunday and evening bus service and its impact on those people who had moved to Stowupland precisely because of its transport links - better than most other mid-Suffolk villages.

At one point, buses penetrated into the side roads of Stowupland - curiously, the bus stops remained long after the buses had been withdrawn - and it did seem strange that, given the number of elderly residents, a service using smaller vehicles had not been tried, rather than the full size buses used by First Group.

First Group have run the service without subsidy from the County Council since they changed the routes around last year, with the main route 88 linking Stowmarket with Ipswich, and route 87 now linking Violet Hill, Combs Ford and Stowupland with Stowmarket using a clover-leaf route every hour. They indicate, and I have no reason to doubt them, that serving Stowupland cannot be done on a commercial basis, thus their decision to withdraw.

What this means is that bus passengers in the village will have to rely on an occasional service between Mendlesham and Stowmarket, or switch to the Suffolk Links demand responsive service, unless the County Council can come up with some money - not something that inspires hope given the pressure on their budget.

Given that the Suffolk Links Gipping North service covers a swathe of villages across mid-Suffolk with only one vehicle, I fear that this means increased isolation for a number of elderly, potentially vulnerable people, so one can only hope that a solution can be found, and quickly.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Editorial: thank heavens for the Parochial Church Council!

This is a cross-posting from the Creeting St Peter Journal...

What makes a village community is the people who work to make it a better place. Parish councillors, community activists, church volunteers, all of them take an interest in their village and, hopefully, help to create a lively, more inclusive, atmosphere.

St Peter's, Creeting St Peter
As a relative newcomer to the village, I have been particularly impressed by the work of the Parochial Church Council, currently led by Alice Matthewson, whose attempts to maintain the fabric of our parish church, the only community building in the village, have led them to branch out into being the commnuity social organisers. Monthly coffee mornings, frequent pub nights, concerts - there is no end to their efforts to entice the rest of us to abandon our armchairs and socialise with our neighbours.

And yes, the funds raised do go to maintain the fabric of a building which, I must confess, I don't enter often - I'm a Roman Catholic, no matter how tenuously. But even a rationalist like myself accepts and appreciates the value of maintaining one of the cornerstones of our village life - Creeting St Peter would be by far a worse place without a church to call its own.

However, what might have started out of necessity has blossomed into something which makes me proud to be a resident of our village, as the enthusiasm with which the myriad volunteers organise the events, and welcome us to share them, acts as an example to us all.

So, thank you to Alice and the team, and may there be many more opportunities to say so...