26 November 2015

Saying Goodbye to The Manor House

As a result of subscribing to Sue Satterthwaite's brilliant book "A Patriotic Endeavour: Aldridge Manor House as a Military Hospital 1915-1919" I was lucky enough to receive an invitation for a  unique opportunity of taking a tour of The Manor House whilst is still remains under the ownership of Walsall Council and therefore belongs to the community. Sue and her protagonist on the book Len Boulton had been given the chance to take people around in order to get a better understanding of what life was like when The Manor House was a hospital. It also invoked an awful lot of memories for the locals!

Today was the day and I went along to the first tour of the morning. It was a enjoyable experience, walking back into a building that has made a significant impact upon my own life, first in its time as the library in the village and secondly as a youth club that just about survives but not for much longer. The Manor House has played a similar role in the lives of a lot of Aldridge people and is well loved because of that. Len and I swapped memories, his from the 1960s and mine mostly from the 1970s. Sue was brilliant in bringing all the threads of her book together and also in being able to impart further information on events detailed in the book for which, there have been further developments. One of those developments is that The Manor House is to get a blue plaque to mark its role as a hospital during World War 1. A tribute to those who brought it all together, the patients and also to Sue and Len for their hard work and dedication on the book project and the implications that arose.

We covered most of the house and the one thing that kept creeping into my mind was although The Manor House is a large building, when you think of the numbers of men that were cared for there at any one time plus all the nurses, VADs and ancillary staff, it must have been a cramped experience. Those people of Aldridge, mainly women, who set up, ran, raised money for and administered the hospital pulled off an incredible feat when one considers just how small a place Aldridge was back then.

Although some of the views the soldiers had from the windows haven't changed so much, for example looking towards the Croft, their view of the High Street has changed vastly. Back then at the top end of Aldridge High Street were cottages, homes and quaint, quirky buildings. It would have been  a decent view and combined with that over the Croft and the fields at the rear, peaceful, particularly compared with what most had endured in France before becoming ill or injured.

Downstairs many of the original features such as fireplaces, cornicing, dado rails are preserved. Upstairs most of this has gone but not all. Everywhere there are examples of boarded up doorways and even a back staircase and remnants of original window surrounds. There is so much there just waiting to brought out to life once again. Every room, every corner speaks of the many roles this building has played throughout its existence with echoes of grand gentle people, servants, soldiers, nurses, doctors, worried relatives, librarians, youth workers, children, noisy rampant young people everywhere.

For me memories of the songs that belted out from the jukebox in the coffee lounge returned full throttle and in my head I could once again hear One Fine Day, Sweet Talking Guy and You're My Best Friend. In what was the old TV lounge I caught glimpses of Charlie's Angels and one room to the back, waiting for what seemed forever, to play table football because the boys always monopolised the tables.

It was poignant to
see the art work of the young people who currently attend the Youth Club and to gaze with envy at the comfortable sofas in the lounge, no springs waiting to twang your bottom but then I do not really envy the young people of Aldridge today for they are losing what we took for granted.

I took a few photographs for posterity, some of which appear here but if you would like to see the whole album then click here. I apologise for the darkness and poor quality of the photographs. It was a very dark and dank morning and I do not use an all singing and dancing camera!

Next weekend Sue and Len will be taking their display about the book and the history of The Manor House as a hospital to The Aldridge Christmas Tree Festival being held at Aldridge Methodist Church on Anchor Road between Friday 4th December and Sunday 6th December, all proceeds in aid of Rosie's Helping Hands and Walsall St Giles Hospice. If you fancy picking up a copy of the book, supporting charity at the same time, enjoying the Christmas Trees (they were fantastic last year) and having a natter with Sue and Len then I urge you to pop in, you will not be disappointed.

I have often commented during the past couple of years that if I win a few million on the lottery I would buy The Manor House and then gift it to the community so that this wonderful, old, historic and well loved building can remain part of our life in Aldridge. Seems that I am not the only one. I'll leave the last words to Sue from an email she sent to me after the tours:

" The tours all went very well and people travelled a long way to see inside the old house. Everyone says that if they win the lottery they will buy it for Aldridge."

6 November 2015

Unknown Soldiers

The final resting place of Frank Keys
 August 1977. Donna Summer was No 1 in the charts with 'I Feel Love' soon to be ousted by a plethora of Elvis songs due to his death on the toilet in Graceland. The only death that mattered to me during that month was that of my beloved Grandfather at the age of 69. I was 15 and although death had touched my life prior to my Grandfather's passing, it hadn't absolutely crushed my soul as this one did.

This blog is not about my Grandfather though. It is about what went before in the history of my family and what followed. For two weeks following his death I stayed with my bereaved Grandmother, sleeping next to her in my Grandfather's bed, on hand to deal with the tea making and a myriad of other things including keeping her company and holding her hand. Those two weeks along with a week that my Mother spent with me following the birth of my son in 1994, are held as the most precious of times.

At night we lay side by side in twin beds and Nan talked whilst I listened and I learned so much. She talked of her childhood lived in the mean streets of Aston, regaling stories of her sisters and her Mother, of school, of games, of being the Spearmint Queen, of how she met my Grandfather, courting, the Monkey Run in Aston, working at Dunlop and other places too. She also talked about her Father. She had no memories of him for he died when she was a mere 18 months old on the killing fields of The Somme. I've written about him before. Frank Keys was an ordinary man who lived in extraordinary times and he was missed by my Grandmother for all of her life.


Grave with the remains of six unknown soldiers
Those two weeks spent with Nan were in retrospect a wonderful gift, for she ignited a spark that, coupled with stories my Grandfather told me throughout my childhood, grew into a life long passion for family history. We first visited her Father Frank's grave in France in 1990 and I have wanted to return for a very long time. I got that opportunity whilst on holiday in France in July.

Our first day on The Somme was dull with a soft mist of rain that eased only briefly during the day. Despite the rain it was 28C, so being outside was similar to being immersed in a warm bath throughout day.

 First stop was Serre Road No 2 Cemetery where 7,127 soldiers are buried of which, only 2,183 have been identified. It is Frank's final resting place although it was not his first. Frank like so many, was originally in death, an unknown soldier. First interred at High Wood his remains were exhumed on 15th June 1928. The remains were examined, Frank's identity disc was gone as was his hair but he still wore his uniform and boots and had certain pieces of equipment with him. He also had an identifying button and was wearing his wedding ring. Frank is recorded as being 5'7" tall and of his teeth, all were in good condition apart from the 4 upper and 1 lower that had been extracted in life. Frank's death certificate states that he died of wounds and I have spent many hours wondering what those wounds were and if he lingered in pain, hoping that he didn't. I think the answer to this lies in the exhumation report; Frank's lower back was broken.

His wedding ring was returned to his regiment, The South Staffords. What happened to that ring that had lain for 12 years on Frank's body? Frank's widow Ellen died in January 1928, my Grandmother was a mere 13 years old and now an orphan. I am sure that she never knew of it.

None of that information had been available to me the first time I visited Frank's grave so this time, there was even more poignancy than the first time and more questions in my head that can never be answered.

The cemetery is huge, gradually rising from the road on a gentle slope but it is not impersonal. Beautifully kept as all CWGC cemeteries are, it is arranged in such a way so that you do not get the full impact of just how many soldiers rest there until you stand in one of the upper corners and look down towards the entrance. I caught my breath as I imagined those 7,127 soldiers all standing facing the entrance and away from me, as if on parade, uniforms neat and spotless, boots shining. In my imagination they stood silently, their faces unknown but known from the hundreds of photographs and silent films that survive from their time. A tear slipped down my cheek and mingled with the soft rain falling from the sky.

We stood in front of Frank's grave and then Aiden left me to spend some time alone with him. I told him of all the major events in my life since I had last stood there some 25 years before, including the death of my dearest Grandmother,his daughter and of a new generation, my children. I promised once again that he would never be forgotten and that I would return again.

Late morning saw us travel the few miles to the memorial at Thiepval. Thiepval is the largest Commonwealth war memorial in the world. At 45 meters tall it can be seen for miles around. A focal point. This visit was personal too, not for me but for Aiden. I will leave him to tell the full story of Herbert Goulding, his Great Grandfather but he seems to have been an amazing man from what we have discovered of him.

Herbert's name is one of the 72,205 names of Commonwealth soldiers whose bodies have never been found or identified. The unknown soldiers. In addition to the commemoration of the unknown there are also 600 graves at Thiepval, 300 from the Commonwealth and 300 French soldiers. They lie together in perpetuity.

Herbert unlike Frank was a career soldier. By the time World War 1 erupted he was a Regimental Sergeant Major in the Lancashire Fusiliers. He was much decorated having spent many years soldiering in Africa including the Sudan and in the Anglo-Boer War. We know that Herbert died on 4th November 1916 virtually at the end of the Somme offensive. We know that he died at Guedecourt and we know that his death must have been 'glorious in war' for he was just a few weeks later, posthumously awarded the Military Cross. He was father to three young children; Ethel, Herbert and Ella and husband to Ethel.
Thiepval

Thiepval was shrouded beneath scaffolding as essential works were undertaken to ensure that the memorial is at its best for the commemorations in 2016 of the centennial of The Somme Battle but it was still an imposing sight. The French Tricolour and the Union flag fluttered above and still the soft warm rain continued to fall. As we walked closer to the memorial the names of some of the unknown became clearer and as we climbed the steps the full impact of what 72.205 names inscribed into Portland Stone actually looks like struck us. Thiepval is a powerful monument. Those columns of names, one after the other, row upon row, wall upon wall, all of them someone's son, father, brother, grandson, nephew, uncle, envelope you, wrapping themselves around you giving a true sense of the enormity of what happened and what was lost; a generation and then the tendrils of events and changes that happen throughout the generations to come because of what happened to these men.


We found Herbert's name. It is an automatic action to reach out and touch the only thing that is left of someone. I left Aiden to his tears and thoughts and he laid his poppy.

Many ask why is this so emotional, to visit a memorial or a grave of someone that is unknown to you but it part of your genetic character? I have no real answer but even in places where neither of us had a relative lying underneath there was still a raw pull against the heart. It's all those soldiers standing there, still whole in your imagination, so young, so full of hope for the future.

We walked around the graves and paid special homage at the grave of an unknown soldier of the Lancashire Fusiliers.

Inside the visitor centre there was more and entirely unexpected emotion to come for both of us. Pam and Ken Linge have been working on a database for The Missing of The Somme for many years and now have biographical  details of over 12,000 of the missing available to view at the centre. Herbert had a full page all to himself and we read newspaper articles reporting comments made by those who had known him in life. All were unanimous in saying what a considerate, kind and thoughtful man Herbert was and how much he would be missed. Beside the computer tables was a panel, created in 2004 containing head and shoulder pictures of 600 of the missing. On the bottom row near the right hand side was a photograph of Herbert. We were amazed and Aiden was overcome. It is not every day that a discovery such as this is made and realisation dawns that thousands of visitors in the centre every year gaze upon Herbert's face. Naturally we purchased the poster.


Later in the afternoon we visited Lochnagar Crater, so named after Lochnagar Street which was a British communication trench. Here in 1916 the enemy lines came within 15 yards of one another. At the end of June 1916 the 179th Tunnelling Company packed 2 explosive charges of 26.8 tons that at 7.28 am on the 1st of July 1916, along with 16 other mines, exploded. The explosion was so loud that it could be heard in Downing Street. The crater is 91 meters in diameter and 21 meters deep. It is immediately apparent that the crater is itself a war grave. It would not have been possible at the time to have recovered all the bodies of those killed on this front line stretch with the myriad of tunnels underneath and indeed men who died so long ago are still being discovered. Private George Nugent went missing in action on 1st July 1916. 82 years later his remains emerged from the chalky soil.

As we stood at the crater looking out across the peaceful and lovely countryside it was hard to remember that this was once hell and is the final resting place of thousands of soldiers, known and unknown. As we drove all around the Somme we were acutely aware of the number of memorials and cemeteries, large and small, so very many. It would take months if not years to visit every single one. We reflected upon how many graves we had seen that day. We thought about 20,000. 20,000 graves in just one day. I tried to imagine 20,000 men standing across the countryside but the number was too large for me to conjure out of my head.

The rain continued to fall and we returned to the car. It is hard not to reflect upon the futility of war, of all wars when you are faced with the reality of the aftermath. Even so I feel humbled by the contribution that mine and Aiden's Great Grandfathers' made and of the ultimate sacrifice they and their families made. The echoes of their lives and deaths are with us still, as are those of all the unknown soldiers, the missing. May they continue to be found.
Thiepval Cemetery

Rupert Brooke

The Soldier


If I should die, think only this of me:

    That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
    In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
    Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
    Washed by the rivers, blest by the suns of home.


And think, this heart, all evil shed away,

    A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
        Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
    And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
        In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

4 November 2015

A small piece of the history of Aldridge Manor House

As we know Aldridge Manor House Youth Club will close soon and the building and substantial grounds will then be placed on the open market and a little slice of history and a building used by generations of people in Aldridge, will be lost to the village. I do however, have some good news!

Last week I received my copy of Sue Satterthwaite's new book "A Patriotic Endeavour - Aldridge Manor House as a Military Hospital 1915-1919" and it is brilliant! Sue has managed to pull together all the relevant source material and tells a story that is probably unknown to many residents of Aldridge. She tells it well, bringing events and people to life once again.

There are some lovely stories within and some that hint at scandal! What shines through though is what a different place Aldridge was then. The people really came together to get the hospital up and running and there are some real heroes and heroines. I was fascinated by the glimpses given of some very interesting people who made Aldridge their home including a militant suffragette!

The book is part of the Aldridge Great War Project and all profits will go to this worthwhile local project.

It is now on sale for £9.99  at the following outlets:

Walsall Garden Centre
Aldridge Library
Lynda's Pets & Plants - Lazy Hill 
St Thomas' Project - Lazy Hill 
Simply Delicious
Croft News
Waterstones - Walsall
Walsall Local History Centre


If you're looking for a special gift for someone for Christmas then this book is ideal. As I say, it is well written, beautifully presented  and of interest to all ages.


3 November 2015

Sweet Sixteen

Around about the same time of day that I am writing this now but 16 years ago, my waters broke and my daughter's journey into the world began. The journey had its moments as all labouring does but she was safely delivered and in perfect form with all fingers, toes and so on, to two ecstatic parents 12 hours later in the dark hours before dawn on the 4th November. In order to impress upon her Father just  who would be in charge right from the word go, she duly allowed the meconium stored within, an exit or maybe an entrance, all over him the first time he held her. Bless!

As a baby she was a joy, never too demanding and allowing us a decent amount of sleep between feeding. She smiled within days of her birth and that smile lit up for everyone who came into contact with her and they became smitten with the simplicity and beauty of that smile.

A few years ago now Father Christmas asked me if she had been a good girl that year. He was disbelieving when I replied that she had been a good girl all of her life. It is however, true. I have never had to raise my voice to her, never had to discipline her. She has been a golden girl for 16 years now.

Like her brother she is fiercely independent and scarily intelligent and as the common denominator to my children I would like to think that my genes have something to do with both traits but alas I can claim no credit for the latter, for she gets to grips with concepts I cannot even fathom and she works so incredibly hard with a determination I can only dream of when immediate enlightenment does not fall.

At six weeks old she was attempting to form words and speak. Crazy. We encouraged this and sure enough, by the time she was just one year old, she could string two or three words together in a basic sentence. It is fair to say she has a gift for the English language, both oral and written. This coupled with her imagination, wild, free and unlimited in its capacity means that it has always been an incredible pleasure to talk with her and to read her writings.

For many years she was my shadow and was with me at every turn. Now she is a young woman, maturing, evolving and what was once a noon shadow is now an early evening lengthening. As it should be.

She has been a wonderful gift this daughter of mine not just to me and her father but to the world. I could wax lyrical all day and night about her and her achievements, which are many but I'll not embarrass her any further and merely say, Happy 16th Birthday my beautiful, brave, intelligent, loving, wonderful, girl. I love you.

24 August 2015

Aldridge, The Great War and The Aldridge Auxiliary Convalescent Hospital at The Manor House

I have mentioned the Aldridge Great War Project before. Today, I learned of a fantastic new aspect to the project that I want to share with everyone and I do hope that you share and can participate too. It's not too onerous to do so! 

If like me you are interested in the history of Aldridge Manor House, then this is for you. You may or may not know that during The Great War, the Manor House became Aldridge Auxiliary Convalescent Hospital for injured military personnel.

This is the text from a leaflet produced, which due to technical difficulties I cannot replicate as a separate form however, if you do want a copy of the form please email me at taxwizzardATgmailDOTcom and I will happily send you a copy.

"ALDRIDGE GREAT WAR PROJECT
270, Walsall Wood Road, Aldridge, Walsall WS9 8HB

In 1915 local people came together to provide a military hospital at the Manor House, Aldridge. 100 years later the Aldridge Great War Project is asking for your help to record the remarkable story of the Aldridge Auxiliary Convalescent Hospital. It is a story of sacrifice, dogged determination and triumph in the face of adversity; a story of ordinary people and their response to an extraordinary situation; a story of which we can be very proud and one which deserves to reach a wider audience.

In 2013 we received copies of documents relating to the Manor House from the family of Dr. T. Boyd Stirling. It is these documents which will form the basis of the book. The Aldridge Great War Project would like to give local people the opportunity to subscribe to the publication in order to fund the cost of printing. It is also possible to subscribe as a business, group, society etc. The book will:

Be A4 in size.
Contain seventy original documents, letters, postcards and photographs
Be given to all local schools and libraries as well as local archive repositories.

We would appreciate a minimum donation of £20 for each subscriber who will:

Receive a copy of the book delivered to any U.K. address.
Have the opportunity to have the copy signed if they wish.
Have their name and address included in a list of subscribers at the back of the book under the following heading: ‘In 1915 local people came together to provide a military hospital in Aldridge. 100 years later we are grateful to the following people who have subscribed to this book and thereby enabled this fascinating story from Aldridge history to be told.’

Should the money raised from subscriptions exceed the cost of printing any surplus will be used to further the aims of the Aldridge Great War Project. Details of money raised and spent will be published on our website or can be obtained by writing to the address above.

If you feel able to support this unique publication by subscribing to it please complete the attached slip and return, along with a cheque made payable to the Aldridge Great War Project, to the address above.

Alternatively return the attached form via email to aldridgegwp@outlook.com and make your donation to the AGWP bank account Acc. No. 27717760. Sort Code 77 31 09. Subscriptions close 25th September.

Thanks for your support. Sue Satterthwaite and Len Boulton                                                    Mob. 07982027256
Tear here

Name (Individual/business/society etc.)


Address


Contact number/email address

Donation (minimum £20)


Would you like your name and address to appear in the list of subscribers? YES/NO/NAME ONLY

Would you like a signed copy?                                                                             YES/NO "



I'm told by someone who is proof reading this book for Sue that it is a great read and very interesting. If it's anything like the other books that Sue has written about the history of Aldridge it will be fantastic! Sue has made a wonderful contribution in recording aspects of the history of Aldridge. Subscriptions close 25th September so hurry!


11 August 2015

Riding solo


Whilst we were in France I ventured out on the bike once again with my security blanket also known as Aiden. It had been a while mainly due to an awful bout of vertigo that left me virtually immobile for eight weeks. Even walking down to my Dad's house, ten minutes normally, became a marathon, with every step feeling as though I was walking through thick vegetable soup. I carried on with normal life as much as possible but some days it was impossible. I've never endured an attack that has lasted so long before and I sincerely hope that I never have to encounter one of such length again.

Riddians Bridge
So today I took the bull by the horns and risked a ride on my own and I am so glad that I did. It was a little gloomy when I set off but the weather improved as the ride   progressed and ended in glorious sunshine.

I took off down to Longwood Bridge and made my way along the canal to Rushall before risking a little road cycling before joining NCN5 up to Brownhills and a return to Aldridge along the canal. I can report no dizzy turns and only one prat of a driver!

I never get over just how rural the canal from Longwood feels and sounds. Buzzards were calling, swallows swooping down to the canal, mixed flocks of finches dropped from shrub to shrub and the dragonflies were busy never being still. Heaven.

Goscote Valley is looking gorgeous at the moment, go on, surprise yourself, take a walk down there and see for yourself the bounty of blackberries waiting to be picked and the wonderful array of bright and loud late summer colours lighting up the fields.

I felt so good the mind was allowed to roam free, with the visual delights providing fuel for the mind. Yes Walsall really does provide a feast for the eyes.

It was good to feel a little independence once again.


Goscote Valley


Brownhills

17 May 2015

Child of Mine

You may not believe me but I think about you all the time. At least a hundred times a day my eyes fall upon one of the many photographs of you and I smile and remember one of the millions of memories of you stored away but kept within easy reach, ready to be treasured once again. Sometimes tears will fall when the memory is one where you were hurting and I berate myself for not having protected you from that pain. Mostly I recall all the many ways you  have me smile or laugh, enriching my existence in ways I could never have dreamt of when you were born or I have moments when my heart has nearly burst with pride recalling the so very many ways that you have made me proud of you and all your achievements.

Last weekend I was sitting in a hide watching birds when out of the corner of my eye I saw a young man perch himself on a bench just a few feet away. I caught my breath as just for a second I thought it was you. I stole many glimpses. He was a little younger than you, maybe just 18 but he was a similar build, tall but not quite as tall as you, slim with slender wrists and long, beautiful fingers. His beard was new with the young fluffy growth intermingled with the more mature manly whiskers. It was cut close to his face the way you used to wear yours. It was however, his eyes that mesmerised me. Dark endless brown just like yours, covered with lashes so long and curly that any woman would be envious of such a natural born gift.

Maybe he felt my glimpses because too soon he was gone.

And then the tears rolled down my face, slowly, silently. The pain in my heart solid like a rock. The longing to hug you and hold you, a physical pain almost renting my body in two.

Just a call. Tell me how you are, what you're up to, what your plans are, if you're keeping well and looking after yourself. Keep it light. No heavy stuff. Just a call.

I miss you Son.

4 May 2015

Sins of the Fathers: A Rant against laziness and an apology

I want to apologise to the young people of Aldridge. It isn't my fault because I didn't vote for any of them but I feel the need to apologise on behalf of those who are of an age to exercise their right to vote (and not to vote) for our local councillors who purport to represent the community of Aldridge Central and South.

Last Wednesday I emailed our local councillors, John Murray, Timothy Wilson and standing for re-election on Thursday, John Rochelle, as reported here. The email is reproduced once again:


Dear Councillor,

At the Hustings held at Aldridge Community Centre last Friday I asked a question regarding the future of the youth service in Aldridge and also about the sale of what is currently used as a community asset; Aldridge Manor House.

I was rather hoping that one of you would get in touch with me (I have emailed you on this subject before) in order to offer a helping hand in attempting to save the youth service in Aldridge. Alas this has not happened and so I am emailing all three of you in the hope that one, if not all, will step forward and help the parents who have children who attend Aldridge Manor House Youth Centre to assist in getting the wheels in motion to save this vital service.

When Walsall Council announced that much of the Borough's youth service would be closing, following the setting of the budget for 2015/16 I was most impressed with the way your party colleague and fellow Councillor, Garry Perry sprung into action to help organise and help those who wanted to save the youth service in Pelsall. All credit to Cllr Perry for his support of his local constituents.

There doesn't appear to have been any similar reaction in Aldridge. The young people who attend the centre would like to see it saved and there are parents of those young people who are prepared to go that extra mile to save the service. I can give you contact details if you so wish. One of the reasons that the parents and users of the youth centre have not come forward yet, is that they need constructive help, advice and organisational capabilities plus someone on the inside so to speak, to argue their case. I understand that with appropriate support and advice there is a possibility that this service could be run by the community. 

Furthermore, it is reasonable to say that many inhabitants of Aldridge would be sad to see the actual sale of the Manor House and more likely to be angry if it was bought and then used for a purpose that would not be of benefit to the local community! There is a possibility that the Manor House could be declared a community asset and for the local community to own and manage the building. This would also mean that the Youth Club would have a home as the council were unable to identify any building that was appropriate in the area when they searched for a new home for the youth centre! Again though, residents and those who care about this historical building need help, guidance, advice and some organisational application in order to go through the process if indeed it is a feasible proposition. It may not be. However, first a true temperature test of the strength of feeling would be helpful. If after all there is not enough interest in saving both the youth centre and the building then fair enough, sleeping dogs can be left in peace. I have to say from emails that I receive that there is interest, which is why I am pursuing this with you. Someone has to.

Would any of you be prepared to call a local meeting for the people of Aldridge in order to ascertain if there is sufficient interest and enthusiasm in forming a community committee that could perhaps in the future become a charity to help save Aldridge Manor House as a community building and asset run by local people for the local community?

I appreciate that this is a lot of hard work for one person which is why I am emailing all three of you. You have as Councillors, access to resources, help and guidance that the local people need. As councillors you are effectively facilitators.



Councillor Tim Wilson was good enough to respond within a couple of hours. This is what he had to say:



Good afternoon Linda,

Thank you for your email.

I was unable to attend the hustings on Friday and was therefore unaware that you had raised the important question of youth services in Aldridge.

Youth service provision in Aldridge is important to all three ward councillors and we have been monitoring what IYPSS propose for our young people and have voiced concerns where appropriate.

I think the best way forward is for IYPSS to provide an explanation of their plans for providing the youth service and then we can meet to discuss it if that would be acceptable to you?

Regards,



My response was swift (so apologies for any incoherence, it was bashed out in an angry manner) and to the point as I did not consider the response to be adequate to the requests for help that had been made:



Dear Councillor,

Thank you for responding so swiftly.

The plans for the Youth Centre have been well publicised as have the plans for all but one Youth Centre in the Borough to be closed, hence my reference to Cllr Perry. It was to close on 31 August 2015 but has been reprieved once again and will now close on 31 December.

The closures are down to the budget cuts.

The sale of The Manor House was agreed by the Council in 2011.

IYPSS searched for a suitable alternative premises but none that were suitable could be found in Aldridge. The Youth Centre was therefore to close with or without budget cuts! The decision was made by the Conservative administration!

IYPSS don't really have much input when budget constraints mean that virtually all youth centres are to close, so I see little point in prevaricating especially when the Centre has lived under the shadow of closure for some considerable time. IYPSS were not even willing to follow up on their promise of a further public meeting with the local community although they did consult with the service users and young people in the locality.

Are you willing to help through direct assistance or not? I don't personally want to get heavily involved although I am willing to be involved. I'm better serving as a campaigning mouth piece as my blog has a reasonable readership. However, I can supply details of one of the parents involved who would like the sort of support and help that Cllr Perry has provided to his constituents. Or perhaps you could attend the Youth Centre and talk to parents and the young people? Or both?

Kind regards



There has been no further communication from Councillor Wilson but at least he tried even if he failed miserably to take on board what the situation is and what help was requested. This is more than can be said for either Councillors Murray or Rochelle. To give them their due, they are merely being consistent in not responding to correspondence from me. 

I'll make no bones about naming and hopefully shaming the three conservative ward councillors for Aldridge Central and South. They each pick up an expense allowance of £10586 per annum to cover costs and help reimburse them for their time and trouble in the onerous job of representing the ward. That's over £200 per week! Now I know that there are Councillors out there that really do help and assist their individual constituents and local communities. They are out there visiting the elderly, the disabled and those that are neither but are needy, to assist with problems that a local councillor can help with and lending a sympathetic ear for problems that perhaps they cannot help with. They are worth every penny and I take my hat off to them and acknowledge the wonderful job that they do. However, Councillors Wilson, Rochelle and Murray have not covered themselves with glory thus far in  helping the young people of Aldridge and also  all the  people of Aldridge that would really like the opportunity to at least try and save the building for the local community. With help, a start could be made but we need that help and it is entirely appropriate for a local councillor to provide it and as I said in my original email, if the interest really isn't out there, then fine. Subject closed. The subject of provision for young people is not however, closed. The majority are not of age to cast a vote but I really hope that they have some influence over their voting parents and grandparents and ask them to NOT VOTE for the lazy, lazy councillors that currently represent our ward. 

No, I don't think calling them lazy is strong. It is my personal opinion based upon my own experience. When Tim Wilson was seeking election for the first time in 2013 he did pop into the Manor House Youth Club during the campaign period. He hasn't (so I've been told) returned there since his election.

Is this really what the people of Aldridge Central and South want? Councillors who are happy to take the generous allowances paid (and funded by us the ordinary people) but who ignore members of the local electorate, ignore the young people of the ward and do not give tuppence about the future of one of the few historic buildings that remains standing in Aldridge?

So I am sorry. I've tried. I asked a question at Hustings and Wendy Morton told me that the issue was of a local council nature, so I once again approached our local tory councillors and have been effectively turned down there too. There you have it. The Tories in Aldridge (unlike those in Pelsall) do not want to know and whilst I think about it, is Wendy Morton even registered to vote from the address given on her nomination form or does she remain on the electoral register at 'home' in Yorkshire?

I imagine that come Friday morning we will have another tory MP who does not engage with all of the electorate, her failure to respond to tweets (on this very subject) is proof enough of that but who in the eyes of many appears to love a photo opportunity more than any super model and come Friday tea time, we will have the same tory councillor who as reported by me along time ago, thought the sale of the Manor House was a good thing. Is that what we really want? Is that what we should be inflicting upon our young people?

Wake up people of Aldridge before it's too late.

3 May 2015

Sitting, waiting, wishing....

To Aldridge Central and South Conservatives. I'm still waiting. Very politely but getting impatient just like the young people of Aldridge.


29 April 2015

Returning to the Manor

In my last blog I mentioned that I had been able to ask a question at the Aldridge Brownhills Hustings that was held last week, about the future of both Aldridge Manor House Youth Centre and The Manor House itself. The question although causing a  dispute between two of the candidates was firmly marked as a "matter for the local authority"

In the hope that someone somewhere might actually want to help the constituents of Aldridge Central and South I have today sent an email to all three local Councillors, who all happen to represent the Conservative Party; Messrs John Murray, Timothy Wilson and John Rochelle, who is seeking re-election next Thursday.

The email is self explanatory and is reproduced below. I have informed the Councillors that I would be publishing my email and any responses. When/if I get a response I'll let you know! This is after all a subject that should be open to all and although it's me asking, I am merely a mouthpiece attempting to get some help.

Dear Councillor,

At the Hustings held at Aldridge Community Centre last Friday I asked a question regarding the future of the youth service in Aldridge and also about the sale of what is currently used as a community asset; Aldridge Manor House.

I was rather hoping that one of you would get in touch with me (I have emailed you on this subject before) in order to offer a helping hand in attempting to save the youth service in Aldridge. Alas this has not happened and so I am emailing all three of you in the hope that one, if not all, will step forward and help the parents who have children who attend Aldridge Manor House Youth Centre to assist in getting the wheels in motion to save this vital service.

When Walsall Council announced that much of the Borough's youth service would be closing, following the setting of the budget for 2015/16 I was most impressed with the way your party colleague and fellow Councillor, Garry Perry sprung into action to help organise and help those who wanted to save the youth service in Pelsall. All credit to Cllr Perry for his support of his local constituents.

There doesn't appear to have been any similar reaction in Aldridge. The young people who attend the centre would like to see it saved and there are parents of those young people who are prepared to go that extra mile to save the service. I can give you contact details if you so wish. One of the reasons that the parents and users of the youth centre have not come forward yet, is that they need constructive help, advice and organisational capabilities plus someone on the inside so to speak, to argue their case. I understand that with appropriate support and advice there is a possibility that this service could be run by the community. 

Furthermore, it is reasonable to say that many inhabitants of Aldridge would be sad to see the actual sale of the Manor House and more likely to be angry if it was brought and then used for a purpose that would not be of benefit to the local community! There is a possibility that the Manor House could be declared a community asset and for the local community to own and manage the building. This would also mean that the Youth Club would have a home as the council were unable to identify any building that was appropriate in the area when they searched for a new home for the youth centre! Again though, residents and those who care about this historical building need help, guidance, advice and some organisational application in order to go through the process if indeed it is a feasible proposition. It may not be. However, first a true temperature test of the strength of feeling would be helpful. If after all there is not enough interest in saving both the youth centre and the building then fair enough, sleeping dogs can be left in peace. I have to say from emails that I receive that there is interest, which is why I am pursuing this with you. Someone has to.

Would any of you be prepared to call a local meeting for the people of Aldridge in order to ascertain if there is sufficient interest and enthusiasm in forming a community committee that could perhaps in the future become a charity to help save Aldridge Manor House as a community building and asset run by local people for the local community?

I appreciate that this is a lot of hard work for one person which is why I am emailing all three of you. You have as Councillors, access to resources, help and guidance that the local people need. As councillors you are effectively facilitators.

25 April 2015

A Hustings We Will Go

Storm clouds gather over Aldridge Comm
Last night we attended a Hustings for Aldridge Brownhills. Firstly I would like to thank Russell Smith and his team at Aldridge Community Centre for organising the event. They did a grand job and around 100 or so attended, making it a worthwhile exercise. I hope that it is something that could be done for local elections and not just national and I also hope that more ordinary local people could be encouraged to attend such events rather than just party activists.

Five of the six candidates standing for election attended, the only one not there was The Monster Raving Loony Party candidate, which was a pity because his manifesto although perhaps written with tongue firmly in cheek does contain elements of local problems that do need addressing.

It was successful, however my evening was spoiled by the malevolence of a couple of people seated behind me. Fortunately the majority did not have to hear the nastiness and hatred that was being spouted towards those who are not the most blessed or fortunate in society. During a discussion about carers and the elderly words were uttered about how caring should be done for free and no allowance be paid. That's lovely if you can afford to do it for free but the majority of carers in this country cannot afford to do it freely no matter how much they love the person they are caring for. One candidate on the platform mentioned that some carers do not claim Carers Allowance because they do it out of love and respect for the person cared for. Love and respect do not put food on the table or pay the rent. Many carers now have young families in addition to an elderly or disabled relative that they care for. They give up jobs and careers in order to care for a friend or relative for the paltry sum of  £62.10 per week and to receive that, you need to care for someone for 35 hours per week! That's a maximum of £1.77 per hour, far less if you care around the clock. Carers save the government millions of pounds that would otherwise have to be spent on social services and the NHS and yet they are treated with contempt. Furthermore I am concerned that if the Tories do form the next government that Carer's Allowance will be further restricted as there are indications that it will be included on the list of benefits that are to be reformed. It is already a taxable benefit. How thoughtless and uncaring can people and political parties be?

Another piece of bile from behind me came when food banks were discussed. One candidate pointed out that it is not a case of if you build it (food bank) they will come. This time the voices were a little louder, "oh yes they will" came the response, "can't resist free food whilst they're standing outside the food bank smoking their cigarettes". I doubt these people even know where the food banks in Aldridge Brownhills are, let alone stood outside one of them and seen the people that are forced through dire circumstances to seek assistance. Nor were they believing of the evidence that was quoted at the meeting about the food bank schemes being run on a voucher basis and that people are restricted to a maximum of three visits. No, they were firmly ensconced inside their own little world where those who need help are scroungers and should be looked down upon. They left a very nasty taste in my mouth which is why I'll not detail all of the other ill informed comments that they made.

I got to ask a question. Unfortunately I was asked to rewrite my question and make it briefer so I was unable to impart within the question that I do know that the provision of youth services and the sale of council owned buildings are a local government issue. Does it matter though? The question was aimed at seeking out which of the candidates were prepared to help the local community. It became clear that most of the candidates knew little about local issues and one did have the courage to admit this. The question I asked (with apologies made to the people of Brownhills, Pelsall etc for it being an Aldridge centric issue) was;

"In 2011 Walsall Council decided to sell The Manor House in Aldridge. Unfortunately the resident youth club couldn't be found a new home and will now close at the end of the year due to the cuts made to youth service provision in Walsall. What support would the candidates and their parties give to the local community in saving this important and historical community asset and its youth club?"

None of the candidates addressed the historical importance of The Manor House to the people of Aldridge. One candidate pointed out the reason why the Manor House was identified for sale; it will realise a good capital sum. Another candidate talked about other buildings being found for the youth club, clearly not knowing that Walsall Council searched in vain for a year in an attempt to find another suitable building in Aldridge and discovered that there was no such building and also mentioned other youth provision in the area. Where? Yes there are a couple of church groups but that's it. Not every young person wants to attend a club that has a religious bent, some find the thought of doing so abhorrent. Ignorance of important local issues is not good enough if you're standing to be an MP and are not familiar with the locality. If you want the job, if you really do care as opposed to saying that you care, then you need cramming sessions on the locality about the issues that matter to ordinary people as opposed to the issues that matter to your local and national party and the political dogma you carry.

My question did provoke a very heated debate between two of the candidates, when remarks about the cuts that have been made to local authority budgets (the cuts being responsible in effect for the decimation of youth services in Walsall) being neither equal throughout the country nor fair, made by one candidate led to red mist descending and the gloves coming off with another candidate. It wasn't pretty to watch the party political animal appear.

In brief, the majority answer to my question (with one exception) wasn't positive.

I have deliberately not named any of the candidates in this blog because I am not entirely sure that any of them are really fit for the purpose of representing the people of Aldridge Brownhills. I listened to a lot of statements that were effectively a regurgitation of their own party mantra. I didn't hear a lot about what they can do for the area they wish to represent. Another reason for not naming is that although I am very political, I am not by nature a party political person and yet the choice before me is about party politics and not about service to a local community.

19 April 2015

Missionary Position Cycling

Lying down on the job
It is a pleasure to say that Aiden has managed to get over the problems he encountered shortly after purchasing his recumbent. So much so that on what was a gloriously sunny Tuesday earlier this week, I accompanied the laid back rider for the first time on a ride up to Chasewater.

It was an experience, not always pleasurable as I also bore witness to his virgin tumble and although there wasn't blood everywhere, there was enough to soak a hanky.

I decided to ride at the rear, I could see him and via his mirrors, he could see me even when I was miles down the road/tow path. This proved interesting when vehicles gave me the usual cursory one foot clearance when overtaking only to slow down dramatically when they caught sight of the unusual cycle in front of me and then proceeded to wait to overtake when there were no oncoming vehicles, giving Aiden full lane clearance. All except two. For some reason the majority of Audi drivers like to live up to their stereotypical reputation for being the most inconsiderate drivers on the road and therefore never cease to disappoint. The other was a driver of a van owned by local company SPV who between the junctions of Westbrook Avenue and Station Road on Paddock Lane Aldridge (a huge distance of maybe 100 meters maximum) decided to overtake me with a few inches clearance just before the junction where he had to stop to give way, only to slam on his brakes when spotting Aiden virtually forcing me up the kerb. SPV, you don't ask how your company vehicles are being driven. Cam't think why!

Potholes are bad for cyclists but they are positively lethal for recumbent cyclists. The amount of potholes however is decreasing at present  due to the imminent local elections. It is the only time I see them disappear as opposed to open up with ever increasing depth through the rest of the year. Thanks to Aiden being upfront I was able to anticipate the few remaining dangerous potholes well in advance.

The one thing though that I was able to observe with a smile, was the unanimous reaction by ordinary folk but particularly schoolboys and young men on seeing a cyclist doing it in the missionary position: hilarity. Without fail, everyone stops and looks, young children point, young women giggle but schoolboys and young men feel the need to stop, point, laugh out loud and then shout all sorts of inane comments. "Wot yow ridin maite?" is one of the publishable comments. It is good that Aiden is bringing joy and happiness to the young males of Walsall!

I have to admit that I watched Aiden purchase the recumbent with a heavy heart. I was worried that such a cycle was even more unsafe to ride on busy urban roads than a normal cycle. To a certain extent some of my fears have been allayed. The bike is such an unusual site that drivers do slow down and give more than any usual courtesy. Aiden also has the advantage with his mirrors of always being able to see what is happening behind him. What I hadn't bargained for was the opposite reaction from fellow cyclists. With one exception, throughout the ride, all of them forced him into bushes, walls etc along the canal, not slowing down, not giving some leeway. Cyclists, it is much harder to  BEGIN cycling on a  recumbent than it is on a conventional cycle, so if you see someone doing it lying down, give way!

I enjoyed the ride, I loved the laughter even if it wasn't always meant in a good way but most of all I am pleased that Aiden is once again enjoying cycling. The problems with his arm and his back melt away when he's doing it missionary style. So far, he's adapting well. Long may he do so.

21 March 2015

A moment that changed my life

Back in August 1996, I stood outside an electrical retailers shop on Ealing Broadway.

I knew that I needed to buy a PC because I was setting up business on my own account having been made redundant but did not have a clue as to what I needed, what specification I needed and whether or not I would be taken for a ride by the sales person. My personal acquaintance with PCs or indeed computers of any type were strictly limited although I had been on courses to learn how to 'do' excel and word. The little card by the PC I was looking at helped my decision; full technical and other support package available for £12 per month. A price worth paying I thought and so I entered the shop, decision made.

The salesman went through his patter even though he didn't need to. The last few sentences caught my attention. Something about AOL and CompuServe already being pre-loaded and so the PC was internet ready. I asked him which he though was best. He used AOL and said it was simple for an internet novice to get to grips with.

A few weeks later I signed into AOL for the first time. Those pings on the dial up became oh so familiar. I 'met' the man who would become father to my daughter and my partner for nine years not so long afterwards in a chat room called The Pub. I also met many other people there and thought nothing of meeting up with those people I had only knew online. Many real life friendships were formed in those innocent days of the internet when the dangers that now lurk for the unwary are ever present.

My life really did change by that decision to enter the shop

20 March 2015

Bonner United

 There wasn't a great deal of fuss this morning but it was a fitting ceremony. As part of a national programme to honour all those awarded the Victoria Cross during World War One, a paving stone was unveiled in Aldridge honouring Charles 'Gus' Bonner VC.

I was brought up in a house in a road in Aldridge named after Gus; Bonner Grove. I had no idea as a child that the grove was named after someone brave until one day when visiting the cemetery  in Aldridge with my Dad, I noticed the large dark shiny stone by the lychgate, where Gus's ashes are buried. I asked Dad who he was. Dad being ever helpful told me to research the name in the library, which I duly did.

Back then Sue Satterthwaite was years away from writing her excellent book Bonner VC; The biography of Gus Bonner - VC and Master Mariner which would have made my quest a little easier. I didn't manage to ascertain much information. Aldridge has never been any good at shouting something to be proud of from the rooftops!

I can now say though that Gus Bonner was a man from Aldridge. He was...

"Awarded the Victoria Cross in recognition of his conspicuous gallantry and consummate skill in action with an enemy submarine. This officer, after being blown out of his control station by the explosion of a depth charge due to shell fire, crawled back into the 4 inch gun hatch with the gun's crew. They there remained at their posts with a fire raging in the poop below. When the explosion took place the gun shifted bodily and the gun's crew blown up in the air, one man being blown overboard, but fortunately none of them were killed and only four wounded. Lieut. Bonner, although wounded himself, did what he could for the two who were with him in the wardroom."

The paving stone has been erected in a small garden designed and created and to be maintained by Aldridge Volunteer Gardeners, who do a wonderful job all year round in making Aldridge look at its best with colourful displays of flowers, plants, shrubs and trees. The garden is quite lovely. It stands opposite The Compass Suites that were erected on the land that the Bonner family home of Manor Farm, originally stood. Older people from Aldridge may remember the farm that stood next to The Manor House with the pond right in front of it.

I'm surprised that more publicity wasn't given prior to the ceremony today. Yes there were a decent number of people there but I would like to think that there might have been hundreds present, just as there are on Remembrance Sunday, to honour Gus had they known what was happening. For those interested I have scanned the Order for the ceremony. Click the photographs below to see an enlarged version.

Now the great and the good have left, you can take a stroll across the Croft to the Bonner Garden and view the memorial.

A commemorative leaflet has also been produced marking the events of today by The Aldridge Great War Project. This project aims to help local people to discover their own family's Great War History and there will be a display and research facilities available at Aldridge Library in a few months time. Full information is included on the web page highlighted above but you can also email the project aldridgegwp@outlook.com








14 March 2015

Just a normal Saturday morning in Aldridge

5th July 2008 and Aldridge was doing what it should do more often; being lively.


                 *****************************************************

Walking to the local supermarket this morning. I pass the off licence and just to the side next to the Chinese Takeaway, there is a an elderly lady, dressed in her Berketex best, hair rinsed blue, looking eminently respectable. She looks around, doesn't see me or anyone else, opens her hand bag and takes out a can of Tennants Extra, opens it and downs it one.

One minute further up the road is the Methodist Church. Outside there is a congregation of about 100 people. Nothing remarkable in that at all. However, they are all wearing loud t shirts, even louder Bermuda shorts, snorkels, flippers, masks and some are carrying blow up palm trees. Oh yes, they are singing hymns which sounds rather strange through snorkels and the like.

Did I wake up in a parallel universe this morning?