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?

13 March 2015

Perceptions and age and the gift of growing old

I have rediscovered my ramblings of the past. Whilst reading what I had written five, six and even ten years ago I was struck by how differently I wrote. It was all straight from the gut and some of it was deeply personal. None of it is available on line so I am going to take the opportunity to republish some of it, as I wrote it back then.

This one made me smile. It was written exactly eight years ago, so my 50th birthday is just a memory, the menopause is reality and yes everything has gone south for the winter! I still believe in every word that I wrote.


Maybe it's because 60 doesn't seem old to me any more and so my perceptions and ideas are changing but isn't there an awful lot of ageist claptrap spoken about anyone over the age of say 50? I'm yet to see 50, it's still a distant enough for me not to worry (!) but at 45, the age of 50 is a booming reality to me.

It's not just the claptrap either, there are the most awful stereotypical thoughts and comments that gush from the mouths and pens of those who appear not to see that it is only in the blink of an eye that they will be one of those that they scorn so. I suppose around about the mid thirties is when you realise full on that it has been twenty (yes 20!!!) years since you left school and in that same space of years you will be approaching retirement and pension age. Suddenly 50,60 and even 70 is not old any longer. Hey, those perceptions apply to everyone else, not me. Look at me I am still young, relatively wrinkle free, fairly firm of body and sound of mind. Then by forty things have changed again, the body isn't quite so firm, even if you work at it, certain health issues might start to creep in and you are there thinking to yourself,  was it only 8 years ago I was still being asked to prove I was over 21?

I'm lucky I suppose in that I come from a reasonably young looking family with women renowned for their good skin. I have no saggy folds or wrinkles especially since I have lost 2 and half stone since the beginning of December. I was sort of thinking that the weight loss might leave it's own debris but I guess my skin must still be fairly elastic and has sprung back into its original place. But that doesn't mean that I don't know that in five or maybe ten years time my skin will gradually have moved in a southerly direction.

Same goes for the face. These last few months have aged me considerably and it shows around the eyes but  am I so internally insecure that plastic surgery must be the answer in order to maintain a youthful appearance? No, I am bloody well not. I stand here now and say I am proud of every wrinkle, line and grey hair because they all prove that I have lived!

Those who leave the mortal coil at a young age stay with us forever as youthful and vibrant because that is how they were and that is how they were when they were taken from us. They didn't get the opportunity to grow old either gracefully or disgracefully or to feel the regret of youth passing. No.

The signs of life are those wrinkles, lines, grey hairs, saggy skin and bodies. Those signs say, I am alive, I have lived, I have enjoyed, I have done something with my life and thought through more than the vanity of trying to keep some perception of youth that in all honesty probably disappeared at 20 only wasn't realised at the time.

So I say to all of those who write such disparaging words about anyone older than them, go and get a life and then maybe you too will learn to appreciate the beauty of looking at someone who has truly lived.

12 March 2015

Suffer the Children: tears with fears for hypocrisy in austerity

Back in October 2010 when Mike Bird was in charge of Walsall Council, he and his party thought it might be a great idea to close libraries. Mike was even quoted as saying  'People can download books, we don't have to have bricks and mortar to give people access to reading materials any more'. Contrast this to the events in the last few months during the no overall control Labour administration budget consultation exercise. At the full council meeting on 12 January this year Mike tabled a motion to save two libraries, Pheasey  (which happens to be in our former leader's ward) and his best tory mates ward, Streetly. The motion failed but Mike lived to fight this cause another day and that day came two weeks ago at the council meeting where the budget for 2015/16 was decided.

Labour had a problem at that meeting. They're in charge of the council but don't have an overall majority and so a deal with the devil in the form of Mike Bird's Tories had to be done in order for the budget to be passed. The deal was done and Mike got a reprieve for the libraries but also involved with the deal was garden waste collection savings and street cleaning savings. What stuck in the throat following the meeting was this exchange of tweets:

I'm not quite sure what has happened to democracy in Walsall but it doesn't live here any more.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm happy that the libraries were saved from closure at least for the next 12 months. As can be seen from my earlier blog I don't agree with any library being closed but it is amazing how the opinion of a politician can be changed, nay completely overturned when it is advantageous to the individual concerned. Or perhaps I'm being a little ungenerous and Mike Bird did find his own road to Damascus running right through the Pheasey.

The enormous cuts that our local council has to make are forced upon them by the current coalition government and their now failed austerity policies. One of the mantras that Cameron and his cronies has used is that it is unfair to saddle our young people of today with the debts of their seniors, way into the future. We have to pay now so that our children don't have to. Yet their austerity policies mean that our children and young people are paying very dearly today despite all protestations. In Walsall they are paying whilst they are in still in the cradle.

Children's Centres are to close. These centres provide a myriad of support to parents and children including advice on multiple child centred problems, before and after school clubs, nursery education, playgroups, legal help, space for parents to meet and consult with child health and care professionals who may be based on the other side of the borough, in fact they were designed to be a one stop centre for anything to do with families; all facilities under one roof. To many they are a life changing and life saving service. Now they are gone.

All youth centres in Walsall apart from one are to close including the one that I have previously written about so much; Aldridge Manor. I'll not go into all the arguments again as to why this is such a backward step but it makes me weep that the only youth services in Aldridge will be provided by churches. Some young people, my own included, are not interested in the God focussed reflection time or in a club that is entirely based upon worship. 

These are the head-liners although you would be hard pressed to find any headlines about the loss of these important and vital services, children aren't part of the electorate and so don't really count but there are other cuts to many services for children such as: short breaks for children with disabilities, reducing the use of taxis for children in care (and the much maligned and so nearly in special measures whilst Bird was in charge, Walsall's Children's Services as a whole isn't out of the woods yet)  reducing expenditure on school bus passes and restricting the eligibility for Special Needs transport, reductions in career advice, support and guidance.

It's OK though because the bins will be emptied, our garden waste will be carried away for 8 months of the year, no parking charges will be imposed in local town centres and the streets will be cleaned. Is this what we've come to? Are bins, street cleaning and free parking more important than services for our children and young people? Labour got bad advice with regard to identifying areas for cuts and charges and then used that bad advice as a basis for their consultation. Consultation is good. Consultation with options based on poor advice is not worth the effort that went into it.

The children and young people of Walsall are being ignored and are paying now for austerity and all the political parties involved in setting this years budget bear responsibility for that.

10 March 2015

Wonderful Walsall

 I've said it before and I'm saying it again, I like where I live and I'm proud to say where I come from. Walsall and its composite towns has many minuses and I'll shout about those as loudly as anyone else but it also has some incredible plus points and I'll shout more loudly about those.

Despite all the budgetary cuts over recent years Walsall's crown jewels remain its local nature reserves and green spaces. Yes, there appears to have been a rise in anti social behaviour and yes, some of the local nature reserves seem less (to me) to be pro actively managed and more prone to a sticking plaster approach but they are managing to survive more or less in tact at present. We'll have to see how things pan put as the cuts bite deeper.

I walked from Rushall today through Park Lime Pits, along the canal, up through Hayhead Wood and The Dingle into Aldridge. I still marvel at the blessed peace that for the majority part, envelopes this walk. After all these years I still cannot get over the fact that most of the walk is about 2 miles from the centre of Walsall Town.

The walk encompasses an area that was once heavily industrial, dealing in the mining of limestone, fullers earth and ironstone, hence the building of the canal to transport the raw materials. There were also many lime kilns and here and there you can still spot a mound or the remains of brick walls that once stood witness to industrial processing.

Mother Nature has now reclaimed her bounty to share with us once again. It isn't stunning or even beautiful countryside but it is lovely countryside within an urban borough and it is ours to enjoy whilst we can.

On the walk I witnessed three buzzards circling over heard and heard two green woodpeckers calling to one another. There was no sign of the lapwings that come to nest at Lime Pits Farm each year but there's still time for them to arrive. I saw a plethora of other birds including two little owls near Riddians Bridge, a grey wagtail in The Dingle and tree creepers in Hayhead Wood. We are blessed with good bird watching right in the heart of the borough.

I did notice that the canal looked particularly murky today and there was a layer of something not quite nice, thick at Daw End but gradually thinning out the closer I got to Longwood Bridge. Normally the canal is very clear on this stretch and I often marvel at the size of the fish as do the herons but there were no herons today, which is highly unusual. The angling isn't good down there are the moment so I'm told and I did reflect on whether whatever is happening right by the canal in Winterley Lane might be having unwanted consequences on the canal ecology and environment. I shall be investigating this further!

The walk gave me time for gentle reflection and thought aided by the fact that I only encountered three other people throughout, a blessing that only comes from taking this walk on a weekday when the children are at school. At any other time it can be busy with local people enjoying this free and wonderful resource.

 If you have a wildlife mad child that worships at the feet of Chris Packham, you will not go far wrong in taking them along this walk because apart from bird watching, tree, plant, mammal and insect identification, you can run, pretend you're in a jungle with all the vine type plantation that hangs from the trees, walk in wellies through streams and pond dip. Walsall provides a wealth of  wonderful wildlife for everyone.

I even saw my first of the year, red admiral butterfly today.

Walsall is Wonderful....sometimes!

6 March 2015

Development by Stealth

Badly needed new homes on the green belt
 Forgive me, two blogs in one day and the resulting hogging of TheYamYam's front page. Makes a change from Ian Shires doesn't it?!

A couple of weeks ago I was bemoaning what I consider to be the unacceptable face of development in the Croft Conservation Area in Aldridge. Today I'm back on a similar subject.

The back elevation of the new church rooms
I have every sympathy with the Planning Department at Walsall Council. Like every council in the land when it comes to development they have to weigh up and take into account an awful lot of opinions plus unitary development plans, government legislation and the policies of whomever its local political masters are at the time. However, I do sometimes wonder what on earth goes on when recommendations are made in favour of some developments and their design and whether there are different rules that come into play for certain people and organisations.

The front elevation of the new church rooms
Housing is currently a big discussion point with the General Election looming and nobody can deny that we do need to build more homes for ordinary people to live in. You know the sort, two and three bedroomed houses with little gardens, usually in some form of estate type build, for the masses. To make things easier for developers who would have their plans for building on Green Belt land thwarted by ordinary locals who are rather fond of the green lung that surrounds their urban area and the opportunities it gives them for exercise, relaxation and even a little fresher, cleaner air, our current coalition government have made all sorts of amendments to existing planning laws and made up some new ones too. As time goes by there will be many that will regret that we have allowed our green belt to be gradually stolen right from under our noses.

What remains of the 'new' rectory
One such development that was given the green light on green belt is a rather flash 'exclusive' type gated, walled development of enormous houses just at the back of the Parish Church in Aldridge. A lovely spot. Fantastic views. Protected. On Green Belt. Of course Aldridge is crying out for homes of this type because it really doesn't have enough to go round. It is interesting to note that the homes come ready supplied with exterior security cameras just in case anyone wonders off path from The Redhouse. Of course they're not the only homes that have been built in this area in recent times. A precedent was set a few years ago and inch by inch Aldridge is expanding towards Little Aston.

Not two paces away from these much needed homes for the well heeled are the remains of what was the Rectory. It never won any awards for its architecture being a house of its time, the 1960s but it will be replaced and will be joined by more large houses in another exclusive development for those who can afford to pay for the views and the exclusivity and where there was one house, there will be several and another little bit of green in our conservation area will be gone.

Another couple of paces bring us to the new Parish Church Rooms. From the front elevation they are reasonably pleasing and I rather like the use of the coloured glass but the view from the back, from the public footpath, well let's be generous and say not quite as much thought went into this elevation and the fence! Who allowed this fence to be erected in the conservation area?

I'm not against all development at all. What I am against is the stealing by stealth of our green belt in order to provide homes for the more affluent in our society who can afford to pay the premium required because possibly/maybe someone had a very dry palm and the developers, land owners needed to buy them moisturiser. I also object to the lack of thought  by architects and planners in designing and allowing ugly looking buildings that are not in keeping with their surroundings, to be erected in conservation zones.

Rant over...for now.

The Forgotten

 You may not realise but in amongst the graves of mere mortals in Aldridge Cemetery there are at least half a dozen Commonwealth War Graves. I do not know for definite but I should imagine they are the graves of local young men who had joined up and somehow managed to find a final resting place in their home village. Certainly some of the names are familiar to me as belonging to families that have long roots in Aldridge. All of them died during World War Two.

Aldridge Cemetery has a lovely setting. It lies high in the village, behind the church and next to the cricket field. Although many graves appear to be attended regularly the graveyard itself is in a sad state of neglect. The paths are filled with fallen logs, twigs and branches. The rabbits have done untold damage to some graves where the headstones lean heavily towards recently dug holes. Even at this time of the year, after winter, the grass is in an unkempt state although at least it is short, for in summer it is often taller than knee high. The brambles are already sending out tendrils ready to wrap themselves the feet of the unwary when attempting to walk on the pathways, some of which are now extremely narrow due to overgrown verges.

For once Walsall Council cannot be blamed for as can be seen from the notice above, the cemetery belongs to the Parish Church.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission are in theory responsible for the maintenance of the war graves however as the graves in Aldridge Cemetary are classified as 'scattered graves' in amongst non-war dead graves that are not theirs to maintain, it is a difficult mission. The information given on the CWGC web site says:

" the CWGC has had to adopt a practical approach to care. The headstone should be clean and upright and the surrounds should be tidy. The grave should be accessible but it is generally not possible to establish or maintain border planting in front of the grave "

 From the photographs that I took today it can be seen that the surrounds of these war graves are not tidy nor in every case are they easily accessible and the Church itself warns that the ground is uneven. I have visited during the summer months and the graves have at times been almost invisible through the long grass growing around them.

It's a sad state of affairs. If the crowds that gather each Remembrance Sunday at the cenotaph in Aldridge are anything to go by, Aldridge has not forgotten its war dead and those that made the ultimate sacrifice in serving their country however, just a hundred yards from the cenotaph the war dead who found a resting place at home, do indeed appear to have been forgotten.