27 August 2013

Ramblings from a bike

If you've a little spare time this week I urge you to take a walk, or a ride along the canal from Longwood Bridge to Daw End Bridge. During my ride this morning I was struck once again by just how beautiful this stretch of canal is and how 'unWalsall' it is, that's of course if you've never been to Walsall and are stuck with M6 stereotypical thoughts of the town! If you go this week you will still be able to view the golden wheat in adjacent fields which, surely will be harvested very soon.

The contrast between the verdant greens along the canal bank with the golden wheat and the reds of haw berries and various plants now passed their best with regards to flowering but still adding enchanting russets and yellows to the scene, is a glory to behold. My only annoyance today was that I had forgotten to pick up my camera.

Today's ride was a quiet, reflective affair. I was alone and it was peaceful. I disturbed the water vole near Longwood Bridge once again and a little further along the local Heron took flight speedily as I approached. The buzzards were calling and several times I stopped to watch them gracefully swooping and gliding, looking for prey. Swallows were still swooping down to the water and the dragonflies, damselflies and butterflies all added to a smorgasbord of colourful end of summer delights.

I was happy to see that many fathers had taken charge of their children and were introducing them to fishing and equally happy that no (underage) teenage idiots were riding the towpaths on unregistered, uninsured motorcycles with no number plates. Last week, three of us nearly ended up swimming on our bikes following such an encounter between Brownhills and Walsall Wood. I enjoyed a more pleasurable encounter today along that stretch with two young men who were surveying the banks and embankments for subsidence. There's a lot of it along there surprise, surprise!

It was also pleasing that today's dog walkers were the  responsible sort that keep their dogs on leads. After several worrying encounters recently with dogs who have a very aggressive bent towards cyclists, I was relieved.

It's been nearly two years since I got on a bike. When I first started, a ride of 10 miles was an achievement, now it's a cheeky little spin and this despite the fact that I'm now the wrong side of 50. I did query (out loud) when I started as to whether I would be able to lose my self by allowing my mind to wonder whilst cycling in the same way that walking had always allowed me to do so. It is pleasing to report that for some considerable time now my mind does its own thing quite a lot of the time whilst I'm turning the pedals allowing me to think through whatever happens to be bothering me.

I still find cycling on roads an ordeal however and I get quite anxious around female drivers of 4x4's but there again I'm always nervous when I'm being approached by a single male rider in his 30s because I have never yet met one who was prepared to give way to me. I've got used to teenage lads shouting what they believe are hysterically funny retorts at me but who scatter four sheets to the wind if you slow down and give them 'the glare'. I perhaps take for granted the friendliness of most people that you meet along towpaths but the one thing I never get used to is the utter beauty of our urban canals and how the views change as the seasons progress.

Just to finish a few photographs taken in August in earlier years:

13 August 2013

A Vote for The Manor?

On Thursday the electorate of Aldridge Central and South will be voting for a new councillor to represent them following the sad death of Cllr Tom Ansell.

The candidates are:
Bob Grainger - Labour
Liz Hazell - UKIP
Chris Newey - English Democrats- "Putting England First"
Roy Sheward - Liberal Democrat
Tim Wilson - Conservative

During the campaign I have eagerly awaited the campaign leaflets in order to see how much each candidate is aware of local issues and in particular the sale of Aldridge Manor House and the closure of the youth club currently being run from there.

The only leaflet I received from the English Democrats was one asking me to join them. Nothing has been received regarding the candidate nor of any issues pertinent to Aldridge.

Similarly the UKIP leaflet although giving details of their candidate focused on national issues and nothing was mentioned at all about The Manor House and Youth Services. Apparently there has been a leaflet issued recently but that has not been delivered to my home, where Liz pledges to save Aldridge Manor House Youth Club. I am not aware if this means she opposes the sale of the building or not.

Tim Wilson in his latest leaflet states:
"Committed to close the 'not fit for purpose' Manor House, but expand the youth provision and ensure that youth clubs are fully supported and finances."

Whatever Tim's personal opinions are about the sale of the well loved and historic Manor House, he has to toe the party line and in particular support the council's 'working smarter' initiative, which is responsible for labelling the Manor House as not fit for purpose. If Tim had attended the first (and so far only) public meeting he would have heard that the younger people of Aldridge who attend the Manor House Youth Club also love this building and want to see the youth service continue there.

Bob Grainger's leaflet mentions the youth service in terms of seeing the proposed pop-up service not providing the same level of service that a dedicated centre would offer. To get a more detailed view it is necessary to visit Walsall Labour's press releases where Bob says:
"The Labour Party has said it would suspend any possible closure till next year and monies gained from any sale would be ploughed back into replacing the service. "
Bob also called for the public to be given their meeting in order that this important local issue could be debated with all candidates.

The Lib-Dem leaflet made no mention of the Manor House and it's Youth Club either and having searched for and not found any press releases regarding his position on our youth service I emailed Roy Sheward asking for a clear and unambiguous statement regarding the closure of the youth club and the sale of the Manor House. 

Roy does not support the closure of the youth club and states clearly that youth provision in Aldridge should be retained. However he does believe that the sale of the building should go ahead stating that:
"I'm persuaded that the Manor House no longer provides the young people of Aldridge  in particular, or residents of Walsall overall, with a viable venue for a Youth Club.  As such given the high maintenance /upkeep costs of this building then selling it seems to provide only real option."

There we have it. It isn't pretty is it? The point is that the land that surrounds the Manor House is a prime development opportunity for someone. The saving of an historical. listed and well loved building takes a back seat. The Tories may boast about having ensured that The Avion remained a listed building but what happens to The Manor House? One local councillor has been heard saying that the £1 million proceeds will be invested for the people of Aldridge but the truth is that the proceeds will be placed in Walsall Council's capital receipts fund and then used to fund capital projects that could be anywhere in the borough. There is no guarantee that the residents of Aldridge will benefit directly or indirectly if the building is sold.

Then there is the small matter of the promised second public meeting. It hasn't happened. There have been no statements by the council regarding their promise to hold another meeting. Draw whatever conclusions to that you like but by their prevarication the local residents of Aldridge have lost valuable time in the extended consultation process in having their views heard and debated.

Youth Service provision isn't just about our young people; it's about the whole community and the effects upon the whole community when adequate provision is not made. No doubt we'll be told that the young people have been consulted as we were at the public meeting, only for the young people to blow a hole in the so called consultation and tell us that their views had been ignored. Well the views of everyone else in the community are being ignored too.

Welcome to the world of non-accountable representatives. Or can they be made so? I urge you to use your vote wisely on Thursday.

9 August 2013

From Darlo to Eternity, with love

The view from Symonds Yat Rock
There is a strange irony that my thoughts turned to Darlaston Town FC last week whilst on holiday in Herefordshire. Ironic because yesterday saw the extremely sad news that the Club, one of the oldest non-league clubs in the country is no more.

Back in the long, hot summer of 1976 an interest in the club was born. My Dad already had an involvement at Waverley Road, he was by then on the committee that ran the club having been drawn in by its then Chairman, the quite literally, larger than life Reg Cooper. Dad knew Reg through their involvement in the Road Haulage Association. Reg was the Managing Director of Coopers Road Services (1972) Ltd and Dad worked for Haywards Transport of Walsall. Both men loved football and Dad still does.

For a few years in the 1970s an annual fixture took place between Darlo and Merthyr Town. They took it in turns to play at either ground for the curiously named Stan Stennett Cup. Why is was called that and who he was I have no idea but it was always a good day. In 76 it was Darlo's turn to make the trip to Merthyr. A coach took the players and wives and some committee members, whilst all of my family traveled in Dad's car.  I recall it was a scorching hot day, not ideal for 90 minutes of rough and tumble non-league football and I do not remember the score although I believe Darlo lost.

76 was the infamous "year of the drought" and in places like Merthyr the water was turned off after a certain time each day. One of my abiding memories of the day was using the toilets and rather wishing I hadn't drunk so much lemonade! Following the game we were treated to a fabulous sit down meal at the club and lots of people made lots of rather boring speeches. It was a good day.

On our return to the Midlands, we took a break in our journey at Symonds Yat. This was a most unusual occurrence for a journey with my Father, as it was always a case of "have you been because we're not stopping again until we get there?" and woe betide you if you did need to go. The bulk of my memories regarding journeys during childhood are accompanied by an awful nagging pain in my lower tummy, desperation for urination and the agony of numb muscles and then pins and needles from permanently crossed legs!

I was 14, I had been watching men running around a football pitch all afternoon and yet the most haunting memory of the many happy memories of that day was the view of the River Wye at Symonds Yat. It is quite simply beautiful. It is a memory that has stayed with me all my life. My first return visit was last week and as I gazed once again upon a view that had not changed in over 35 years I was overwhelmed and tears slowly fell from my eyes at thoughts of my last visit there with Mom and Dad and my siblings. And that is how I came to be standing in front of a beautiful scene and thinking of Darlaston Town FC!

Following that day I was a regular at Waverley Road and at the grounds of away game clubs in exotic places such as Armitage, Paget, Lye, Halesowen, Willenhall, Warley and Rugby for a few years. I freely admit that part of the attraction were a couple of the younger players but I also enjoyed the football, the friendly, family atmosphere and the babychams that Jack Faulkner and Reg Cooper used to get for me in the clubhouse following a game! I used to help out on the turnstiles and sell the odd programme and help with the tea urn.

If everyone who says they attended the famous fixture in the final qualifying round of the FA Cup in November 1976 against Kettering Town had actually been at Darlo, Wembley Stadium wouldn't have been large enough to contain them all! I was there though. I sold a lot of programmes that day. It was magical. I was so excited by the thought that Darlo could make it to the first round proper of the most famous cup competition in the world and so were many other people as 1500 actually turned up, a record that will now perhaps stand for eternity. I was also excited at seeing 'The Doog' who was then player manager of Kettering and doing a fantastic job as Kettering were riding high that year. As a Wolves fan he was one of my football heroes.

On the morning of the match I answered the phone to hear what was a very dodgy Irish accent ask to speak to my father. I asked who was calling to be told it was 'The Doog'. I wasn't sure if the voice really belonged to my hero or not but paying it safe I explained that my Father wasn't available at that moment and could I give him a message and take a number so that he could return the call. The caller then launched into a rant about the 'slope' at the City Ground and how were his players expected to cope with playing on the slopes of The Wrekin? I held my breath. I knew then precisely who was calling and despite being a little upset that I was not actually speaking to my hero I managed to laugh out loud and tell my Dad's friend and colleague that I wasn't fooled. He bought me a babycham after the game as way of recompense!

The rest of the day passed me by in a blur of activity and excitement. Kettering went 1-0 up but brave Darlo kept fighting and pulled the goal back. It finished 1-1. The atmosphere in the clubhouse following the match was electric. Everyone was buzzing with what had been achieved that day. Darlo hadn't won but they may as well have done. I enjoyed a lot of babychams and my Mother was none too pleased with the state I was in when me and Dad finally arrived home.

I wasn't allowed to go to the replay at Kettering because it was a school night but I was on edge all night waiting for Dad to call with the result. Darlo lost of course, 2-0 and there was some dispute as to whether the game should have been played at all as it was so foggy you couldn't see the goalposts from the opposite end of the ground, or so I'm told!

I gradually stopped attending matches at Darlo when I got a job selling programmes at Molineux and the fixtures clashed but it's always been a well formed habit to check on their results every Saturday. Alas, a habit now to be broken.