Monday, 31 December 2007
Sunday, 23 December 2007
Monday, 17 December 2007
Locally the steps are known as Granny Dripping Steps [Granny's Stairs and also Granny Drippen's Stairs/Steps - apparently named from her bread and dripping sandwhiches] - named after the crossing sweeper who at the turn of the 19th/20th Century swept the stairs. The historical suggestion is that she was old ["looking for all the world like the witch in Hansel and Gretel"] and relatively ineffective at clearing the mud and muck that accumulated.
Now we have a need for Granny Dripping to return - in short the stairs are neglected and are a really unpleasant mess - graffiti, overhead wire meshing, broken bottles, litter under the steps and often dog mess... But of course no-one is clear who owns or maintains the steps. The network of rail companies makes for a labrynth of avenues.
So it's a cause that we have agreed to take up - working with Cllr David Abrahams we have started the task of unpicking the various responsibilities and seeing if we can allocate some direct and sustained improvements...
Local resident Jean Austin joined David and I when we looked at the steps and the need for a serious clean-up is pretty self evident - we'll keep you informed.
Friday, 14 December 2007
Thursday, 13 December 2007
I still like Christmas Cards - it feels old fashioned but I have an ink pen, I like writing letters - for me the personal thoughts, news and greetings is a relaxation that reminds me of friends and family of whom I see too little. So the coming week is a joyous prospect of letter and letter and letter again - to the scatter of family and friends - often it's something I allow to spill over into the post Christmas, pre-New Year period... this year, mainly because of the threat of a General Election I have missed too many birthdays so the annual letter write-fest that is Christmas for me will be especially heavy. :-)
Joe is retiring after a lifetime and so it will cease trading in the near future.
Tuesday, 11 December 2007
Monday, 10 December 2007
Sunday, 9 December 2007
It would be a shame not to share these here - St Pancras Station is one of the most dominant buildings of London - an amazing level of detail, quality confirmed by a total sense of place.
The history is that in May 1865 - with the railway station already being constructed - Midland Railway Company launched a competition for the design of a 150 bed hotel.
Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878), put in a grand plan bigger and far more expensive than the specification. But audacity paid off and he was awarded the contract and by 1876 it was open. Cost and scale were lavish:
- decoration and fittings £49,000
- furnishings £84,000
- A toal consturction cost of £437,335
- The building had 60 million bricks
- 9,000 tons of ironwork
- polished columns of fourteen different British granites and limestones.
- 300-room hotel, charging 14 shillings (70p) a night in 1879 - only six pence (2.5p) more than the famed Langham in Portland Place, W1.
- Fixtures and fittings in the hotel were to a high standard
- Special 'new' features including hydraulic 'ascending chambers'
- concrete floors
- revolving doors
- fireproof floor construction
We're now not far from being able to see it all restored to a new and exciting glory - whether it will quite have the army of servants that previously serviced the hotel will remain to be seen...
Thursday, 6 December 2007
Tuesday, 4 December 2007
Sierra Leone is perhaps the most amazing place I have ever been to. Friendly, warm, positive... And yet it is racked by the most endemic poverty, corruption and lowest wage levels I have seen.
In terms of all international indices and assessments Sierra Leone is near the bottom of the chart and yet when you are there it doesn't feel like that.
Don't get me wrong - the poverty is highly visible - and indeed I went down the back streets, into the slums and it is truly upsetting and stark. But people are positive, engaging and amazingly positive.
I was first there before the election had really started, but then returned to see the country during the election - few places are so political, seeing politics as a solution, engaging with the process.
Of course, Sierra Leone has a positive relationship with the UK massively enhanced by our role during the war and in particular in taking on the West Side Boys in 2001, but I can honestly say that in our own small way, we as a delegation felt useful.
The work was coordinated by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and we appear to be the only group working directly with the political parties.
There are essentially three large parties now - SLPP (Sierra Leone People's Party), APC (All People's Congress) and the PMDC (Peoples Movement for Democratic Change). The latter - the PMDC - are a new party led by Charles Margai and they eventually led the campaign for change - SLPP have been in power - and amazingly Sierra Leone has voted for change. There is now a coalition of APC and PMDC and the transition of power has been largely peaceful.
The new president Ernest Bai Koroma has a huge responsibility driving forwards change, but he seems to be up for the task and a great advocate for the country to enable them to move forward.
Quite what happens next precisely however is the unknown bit - can the new government tackle the endemic corruption, can living standards increase, can the tax and administrative mechanisms be embedded..? All is possible and there is great optimism, I just hope that it works.
Of course, the other (often unspoken) element is that there is a vast diaspora from Sierra Leone, especially here in London and so much hinges on their reactions and impressions.
The potential for international investment is huge, and I noticed China the other week formalising links with the new Government.
It's a country I want to keep in touch with and am planning a holiday trip sometime in the New Year... Having been around the major population centres (Freetown, Bo, Makeni and Kenema) I now want to see something of the rural areas especially in the deep south and the islands around Bonthe if possible.
For an introduction to Sierra Leone I started on Ismail Beah's memoirs of a boy soldier - it's tough and in places harrowing, but probably the best all round view of what the country has gone through - and yet still retains it's optimism.
Monday, 3 December 2007
Trees provide us with the oxygen we need to live and sustain life. They clean the air and offer us shade and protection. They provide shelter to an enormous array of wildlife. And most convincing for me - they were here before we were.
"Please help water me
Replaced by Camden, it reveals the love and affection and professional pride in this planting by the staff and on the back of considerable support for trees and planting across this part of London
London is now every built up, and I have sat through too many discussions where it is explained that trees can't be replaced because of their roots and gorwth interferring with cables, underground etc etc. It seems to me really sad, for example, that the Finchley Road once had trees down the middle of it but now they are a distant memory sacrificed to the development of the car and traffic. Is it too late to bring them back?I have served on the Hampstead Heath Management Committee for the last two years and have been more than struck at the issues surrounding trees - the way they are nutured and loved, maintained and assisted by the Heath staff who care for them. There are times when we see trees that have been cut back or pollarded and the effect is dramatic (and you tend to assume the nagative) but in fact the work is remedial or medium term and the following year the tree is flourishing again - it's been a real education for me.
Sunday, 2 December 2007
Most of it tends to be pretty hum-drum and lacking imagination, and you often see stuff that is so terrible that you tut or just have an internal sinking feeling. But just occasionally you see some that is, well, good to excellent...