18 September 2011

Between a Bridge and a Pub

There are two planning applications being considered at the present time that in theory could have repercussions for the area in which I live. I speak of the application to erect a rather large wind turbine at Riddian Bridge and the conversion of the old Avion Cinema to a Weatherspoons Pub.

I have mixed feelings about both.

To me wind turbines resemble the windmills of old and are really quite beautiful when seen out at sea from a shore nearby. Even some of those sited on wind swept hills seem to lift some quality from below and make me smile. So I'm not against them per se. Let’s face it we desperately need to obtain our energy from environmentally clean and sustainable sources. The prospect of more nuclear energy terrorises me but that’s just me!

In Walsall we are blessed with some lovely nature reserves and green spaces but there are few beautiful views unless you stand on top of Barr Beacon, which if you haven’t done you should do! The views from Riddian Bridge and towards it too are pleasant and about as rural as you can get in an urban borough such as Walsall, which is where my mixed feelings come into play. I suspect that once it’s been built I will grow to like the turbine every bit as much as others I have admired but I admit to a niggle.

As to the Avion, well to save the 1930s building from the curse of the Walsall Firestarter would be a noble and fine thing but my misgivings here are based upon experience of what has gone before.

With The Elms having gone to being a Crown Carvery it really is no longer a traditional pub and Aldridge could do with a decent central pub open to all. However there is a reason The Elms went the way it did and I witnessed the reasons on a Friday or Saturday night far too often. A casual drink, listening to a live band, a little bop to the tracks played by a DJ became undesirable with the youngsters, unable to handle their earlier home consumed Alcopops etc on top of what was then consumed on the premises, causing madness and mayhem. There was a good reason for all those employed on security duties.

The Elms gained the sort of reputation that had previously been the preserve of The Hop and Grape (or Hope and Grope as it was known locally) until its closure some years ago now. Despite attempts by decent people to manage what happened within, it became a place to avoid and one poor man was murdered in an alley just over the road after being followed out of the pub.

Neither place was the preserve of just the locals, both attracted custom from a much wider area and I always used to wonder what it was that went through a non-local’s mind when deciding that Aldridge was the place for a Friday or Saturday night out!

So both applications have their good points for me but both bring negatives. Que sera…..

A rural view over fields very close to Riddian Bridge. Taken in May 2011

17 September 2011

Snowdon: Our Journey

On a beautifully sunny day a month ago I finally crossed a long-standing ‘thing to do before I die’ off my list. Along with my daughter and partner, we walked to the summit of Snowdon and back down again.

Having been in North Wales for over a week before making the climb we had chosen the day with care, holding out for a forecast when no rain was due and we were rewarded well. At 8am we set off from the car park at Pen-y-Pass using the Miners Track, in glorious sunshine. We were wrapped up warmly as despite the sunshine it was a mere 9C however with a good pace for the first hour or so, layers were gradually packed away in rucksacks and arms and legs shown to the sun. During the day we did see some cloud and the sun hid from us now and then but on the whole we chose a wonderful day in which to do this for the very first time.

The first part of the Miners Path is, well it’s easy and it does lull you into a false sense of security, which is smashed to smithereens later on! However it is a very gentle ascent until well past the causeway at Llyn Llydaw. We were lucky at this time as there were few who were following this path so early in the day and so for the most part we could enjoy the beauty of the morning and our surroundings in relative peace and quiet. How glorious the landscape is. When travelling past Snowdon by road I had often thought how grey and stark it looked but once walking, it became clear that this was not the case at all. The colours are subtle and muted but Snowdon is far greener than I had anticipated.

I tried not to look upwards on my left hand side too often for there lay our destination and although we had been walking for a while, it didn't seem to get any nearer and so it was better not to look! It is a daunting prospect from below.

The water in the lakes was beautifully clear and looked so inviting. Later in the day on our descent we glimpsed hardy or perhaps foolhardy people frolicking and swimming in Glaslyn. I admit that I spent far too long lingering by the waters and taking photographs but I just wanted to drink the whole experience in and imprint the beautiful pictures in front of my eyes along with the serenity I was feeling inside, within my mind forever.

Once past Glaslyn the path becomes steep, uneven and downright difficult in parts! At stages we scrambled upon the scree and more than once I was thankful that there was no low cloud or rain obscuring the way. It became obvious why so many people come to grief in poor weather conditions on this most accessible of mountains. It’s still a challenge no matter how many people walk and climb it and shouldn't be taken as a light task. The penultimate haul from where the Miners Track meets the Pyg Track took an excessive amount of time. It is very steep and by this stage there were many people ascending and one or two early risers who by now were descending having perhaps claimed the summit to themselves as their reward for getting out of bed at ridiculous o clock! I readily admit that I found this part difficult, as did my companions although my daughter’s difficulties were more to do with not liking the drop to our left hand side rather than the strenuous nature of the activity.

The puffing, panting, grunting, hurting all melted away into nothing once we reached the post where the path from Llanberis comes up. All of a sudden a breathtaking vista opens up in front of your eyes. A few fluffy white clouds were in my eye line and then before me lay what felt like the whole world; lakes, villages, hills and in the distance the sea. It had been worth every moment of effort.

With renewed vigour we turned left and walked towards the summit. This took us another 15 minutes or so. It was extremely busy by this time with what seemed to be the world and his wife taking advantage of the glorious weather to make the climb. The train chuffed passed us on ascent and then descent but I did not envy those who had taken that transport to the summit. Apart from those who have no choice through disability, I pitied those who cannot experience the sense of achievement in having done what we were doing.

It was hard to actually get onto the summit point itself due to the sheer numbers of people attempting the same thing but we did make it for a couple of minutes. And then I found a relatively quiet spot and had a moment with my Mom. I admit to having had a good cry then. Mom would have loved it there with the stunning views and it saddened me that she had never made it up there. She told me not to be so daft because she had been with me every step of the way and was enjoying the moment with me. I pulled myself together and rejoined my companions. We purchased top up drinks and a well needed coffee from the cafĂ© but if you’re thinking of doing the same, I urge you to consider which body part you will sell in order to fund such purchases. There is nothing like a captive market. We then found a quiet enough spot for the three of us to sit together and eat the packed lunch we had brought with us. We sat munching away, reflecting upon our efforts, on the fact that it was worth it and enjoying the views.

I must mention a tiny young lady of just four years old. We first made her acquaintance with her family at the car park and spent most of the ascent passing them or they passing us. She made it all the way to the summit without being carried. I've no idea if the same happened on the descent as we didn't see them again after meeting them at the summit.

We enjoyed a good hour up there to rest and recharge the batteries and then we began our descent, which was a difficult thing to do such was the volume of upward traffic facing us. One of the things that I did find a hindrance was dogs. The rules of the national park clearly state that dogs should be kept on leads. Unfortunately the majority of owners appear to ignore this rule when it starts to get tough, the pathway narrows and the dog starts pulling in a different direction to the one the owner wished to travel. A request, for the comfort and safety of yourself and for others, leave your dogs at home. Several times I was nearly tripped by a free running dog. It seriously hinders progress when you have to be on the look out for the animals and it also ruins the place having to listen to owners shout and call their dogs. You may as well be in a town park.

The decision was made to take the Pyg Track down as it gave us a different route to the ascent and finished at the car park we had started from. On the whole I don’t think it offered such good views and I didn't enjoy it, however this may have something to do with me finding it far more difficult to descend rather than climb. I always have and the advent of creaky joints and bones with my advancing age hasn't helped! We spent some considerable time being distracted by a mountain rescue that took place above us, the RAF helicopter swooping around and finally lowering a rescuer to whomever it was that needed their help. Once the rescue had been made peace once again became our preserve as by now the crowds had thinned and we were seeing less and less people.

We arrived back at the car park just under 8 hours after we had started earlier in the day. We had taken our time, enjoying the views, the sunshine, the experience and having a good rest at the summit. It wasn't a race but an experience to enjoy and savour and I hope to do it again as soon as I can although my two companions may differ on that!

The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth

This has been a difficult blog to write for a myriad of reasons but mostly because it’s an emotive subject and as regular readers know I get emotional over very simple matters!

A few years ago Father Christmas asked me if my daughter had been a good girl that year. When I replied that she was always good he gave me an incredulous look but it’s true, she is. She’s always been well behaved, polite, trustworthy and I've never had a problem with her going places with other people because I know instinctively that she will behave.

Back in May during a PE lesson at her Primary school, Whetstone Field in Aldridge, an incident occurred where the teacher in charge that day, grabbed my daughter with rather too much force resulting in substantial bruising on her arm. Every finger and the thumb prints could be seen. My argument has always been that it was unnecessary to grab my daughter in such a way and to drag her across the playground. She wasn't misbehaving and even if she had been to use force that left clear and unambiguous bruising was unacceptable and unprofessional. There was never a question in my mind that my daughter’s report of the incident was nothing but truthful, she doesn't lie plus why on earth would she lie about such a thing? The teacher concerned had no recollection of the incident. Take from that what you will.

This is where events took on a life of their own and where I as a reasonably intelligent person got caught up in procedures and meetings that I knew nothing about. I've never had to deal with Children’s Services and Initial Response Teams and Multi-agency Strategy meetings before and I'm none the wiser now because not one person involved in all of these agencies told me what was happening, what should happen and what my daughter’s rights and expectations should be.

I had a meeting with the Head Teacher where she was shown the bruising and given full details. Her reaction was insipid to say the least and when I asked her what would happen next she advised me that she would probably let the Chair of the Governors know by the end of the day. I walked home and decided that I didn't like the reaction I had just received and contacted the Police.

Without going into detail all I can say is that the agencies involved let my daughter down badly. The Police didn't listen to my initial call and sent a local bobby to interview my daughter about the alleged assault, rather than a specialist officer. The school didn't swing into action as they should have done and there was delay in contacting Children’s Services. The initial response team at Children’s Services were slow on the uptake too. The result of all this was that it was 8 days after the incident before my daughter was examined by a paediatrician who was unable to neither confirm nor deny that daughter’s account of how the bruising happened was true because by then the bruising had faded to a yellow mess.

Unbeknown to me a Strategy Meeting involving the Police, the School, Children’s Services and Serco took place and the decision of the meeting was that no further action would be taken. At the time I was informed of this I didn't realise the importance and finality of this decision. I do now. I was never informed that the meeting would be take place and who would be there. At no stage was I ever informed of any procedures and what would happen. I have learned that when you find yourself dealing with an incident where advice as to what is happening should be given, agencies/authority close ranks and leave you stumbling around in the dark.

The result is that due to ‘the lack of evidence’ due to the tardiness of all those involved including the school who interviewed just one child from a class of 30 who had witnessed the incident and that child on being confronted with his Head Teacher and Class Teacher in a room on his own with nobody to hold his hand, understandably got muddled and confused, the word of the teacher, who had everything to lose, was believed over the word of my daughter who had nothing to lose and no reason to lie.

I have learned a lot from this incident. In future if I find myself in a situation where I do not know the ropes I will obtain specialist advice immediately and I advise others to do the same. If you don’t then there is no justice for a child. Those who preach the mantra of children having all the rights these days and no responsibilities should take heed of this account. My child had no rights in all of this, took all the responsibility and achieved no justice despite having done nothing wrong.

Fortunately my daughter has now moved onto to Secondary school and is happy there. Unfortunately there is still a teacher at Whetstone Field who needs some retraining at the very least but is not getting it and who should if she had any conscience and morality have accepted responsibility for hurting my daughter. I feel for you if you have a child there because in my experience it is not the school it once was nor the school it likes to project itself as.

This is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth as I see it and in my opinion.