Friday, December 28, 2007


Some of you have been looking forward to news of Mrs Lucas's drinks and nibbles party. Ever since I first advertised the event in on a post about bollards.

Especially this bit.

"XI. If I start a great big neighbourhood feud/war type thing won't it be a bit embarrassing at Mrs Lucas's Christmas drinks and nibbles party on the 27th of December?"

I'd like you all to know that the drinks and nibbles party went down with great humour, great food and great booze. We gosipped, we ate and we laughed. There was talk of bollards but all of it favourable, there was also talk of sketchy neighbours but all of it drunken. My homemade Brooklyn Cheeseckae was a hit!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Merry Christmas

This one is aimed directly at Weasel.

Frau Random Doubt, the wee Hen and I went 'up the city' on Thursday to do a spot of lastish minute Christmas shopping. I was dreading it.

The first day of the school holidays? The city? parking? driving? crowds? working class people?

The mere prospect of a day (or a significant part of a day) spent hauling around Norwich filled me with anguish. Can't we just do all this online?

"No", said FRD. "We need to get some specific things right now".

So off we went.

Parking was much easier than I had anticipated. Ummm.

There seemed to be fewer people about. Great.

One of the specific things we needed to get was a small football for Balfour. For some reason this had proved problematic (in a country clinically obsessed with footy it was difficult to get just the right type of ball). I had pondered this and decided upon hitting the city and finding a cheesy sports store. My words "I'll get the lad the ball he wants or I'm no uncle and we shall never celebrate Christmas again!!"

We take the lift in the slightly swanky department store to the wrong floor. Bugger. But there, as the lift doors part, there it was. A fantastic, reasonably priced mini football of exactly the type Balfour's parents had suggested.

We knew it was going to be a better than average day.

While FRD went into the worst mall in the world I took the wee Hen to the local museum to buy a museum pass (free entry to about half the museums in the county for a year!) The museum was a blissfull oasis of calm and tea. we spent an hour, looking at watercolours and stuffed polar bears. It was a truly rarefied moment, and the baby changing room was very good.

This day is actually becoming enjoyable.

With great ease we found and purchased gifts for my impossible to buy for mother.

Unheard of. Other family members still do not believe this bit.

Then, with our shopping done, the weather gorgeous and not many crowds we spent a couple of hours strolling. yes, strolling the streets looking in windows and having a delightful time.

I even introduced FRD to the great childhood game of 'Go into the old fashioned hardware store via it's entrance on this street and navigate your way through old fashioned hardware store's three floors of brushes and plumbing supplies until you re emerge from it's other entrance on the other street'. She loved it!

Weasel, the picture is for you, a Norwich institution and still feeding the masses as it did when we were lads!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas cards

After a lengthy series of negotiations, arguments, reconcilliations, visits to card shops, post offices, photocopiers, blood, sweat and tears, red wine, single malt, baileys irish cream and some late night candle burning our 2007 Christmas cards are done.

They lack something this year ( we meant to do a cheesy circular note but couldn't be bothered).

If I like you, look out for an underwhelming yuletide note soon.

We'll keep the Singing Postman busy!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

We're all Daves now.

I was chatting to a dear friend called Dave (not that Dave).

I asked him if he was annoyed that 'Dave' was now synonymous for irresistable, smug, born again, neo liberal conservatives who will quite possibly take over the country at the next election.

He said "yes, it annoys me a lot".

Later on, I was brewing up some tea. In our house we call normal tea "Dave tea". It's a good honest working man's name for a good, honest working man's brew. All the other stuff (Darjeeling, Earl Grey, Lapsan Souchong etc) we call 'fancy tea'.

I asked Dave what he calls "Dave tea". He said "I call it normal tea, all the tea in my house is Dave's tea".

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Emily Fabpants

I used to sail with Emily. Years and years ago, for years and years.
She still defies explanation, interpretation, catagorisation but does not defy friendship and good beer.
She has a blog!
Hooray for blogs nouveau!

Sunday, December 09, 2007


A rather long tale from the eastern shires which discusses human rights violations and bollards.

At the rear of my house there is a nice car park. It's a private car park for the use of residents and their guests. In days of yore it was often full but these days there are a couple of empty spaces as two of the five houses do not own a car. To the back of the car park is a public footpath which runs behind the old bridewell. Vehicle access is gained from the road about fifty metres away. All said it's a very nice litlle spot, well, for a car park. The sun shines in from the south west on an afternoon and it's fairly clean, the old bridewell dates from the 1700's and is a good looking redbrick fascade which lends a slightly more urban symmetry to the small town environment.

Right, so you're aware of the location? And you're not asleep yet?

I'll go on.

There was a spot of wierdness recently about other people using the car park and at one point some notes were left on the windscreens of non residents but this has never bothered me, nobody has ever used my spot so why get involved. This wierdness passed and since then I have used the car park with no hindrance of any kind.

Last week bollards were erected across the entrance to the car park.

A bloke came to our door , gave Frau Random Doubt a couple of keys and went away.

She didn't even know what a bollard was. You can't see them from our house, they are just around the corner of the dog leg access road. Like I said, no bother with parking of any kind.

For some reason the erection of bollards across my legal right of way caused the mighty fury to rise up and take possession of my soul. The reasons for my fury were fifteenfold. At least.

I. It restricted my legal right of access to my home. OK, not exactly, you can of course still get in the front way but I park my car at the back.

II. It's a massive inconvienience. getting out of the car twice every time I want to go anywhere.

III. What about when it rains?

IV. I never asked for these bollards.

V. Who put them up?

VI. Who controls them?

VII. Who controls the keys and the locks?

VIII. How do I complain about them and to whom do I complain about them?

IX. Was it a neighbour?

X. Which neighbour would have had the time, money, inclination to raise a barrier to my right of way?

XI. If I start a great big neighbourhood feud/war type thing won't it be a bit embarrassing at Mrs Lucas's Christmas drinks and nibbles party on the 27th of December?

XII. Surely I can't wait untill after the 27th to begin my neighborhood feud/war type thing?

XIII. If I engage with the bollards am I accepting their existence and thereby giving them credibilty, thus undermining my vengeful wrath.

XIV. If I boycott the bollards how will I ever leave my home again?

By this time I was feeling a little bit nipped to say the least.
I was a little bit Sir Edward Carson ("Ulster will fight and Ulster wil be right!"), I was a little bit Sir Winston Churchill (" An Iron curtain"), A little bit Ronald Reagan (" Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!").

Before confronting any of the nine or ten potential suspects I decided to enquire at the local council. They must know something.
I began at the top, calling the County council. They knew nothing about any bollards being erected in that location (Tory bastards).
I tried the district council, they brushed me off almost immediately and passed me back to County level(I think they are Tory bastards too but I'm not sure, possibly Lib Dem misguided fools). I had another great conversation with a nice man who advised me to "build a case and find out all the facts before I confront anyone".
I continued by calling my sister's father in law, a former mayor of hometown who told me to check in with the town council, I could even attend the town council meeting that very night, it's open to the public. Oh, that would be nice but I've got a ticket for the footy tonight and I don't get to go that often so the bollards will have to wait. He sort of exhaled and gave me the impression that the bollards can't really be that important if you are off the watch city. He was probably right. I then spoke to the clerk of the town coucil, a nice man called Trevor. He informed me that the town council had no knowledge of any bollards in that location ( I would call them Tory bastards because that's what they are but I know most of them and they do a pretty good job and are quite a nice bunch, if a bit uptight about young people and fun and stuff).

Still, my fundamental rights of access to the rear of my property are being infringed!

This leaves me with a sinking feeling, plus the fact that the vengeful fury is still there too.

If the three tiers of local government have no knowledge of the bollards , it has to be a neighbour. A really, really uptight neighbour. A really, really uptight neighbour with enough money and time and inclination to erect bollards across my legal right of way, thus restricting it and causing me to get out of my car twice, sometimes in the rain, in order to raise and lower the bollards.

I must confront this erector of bollards and condemn them. I am so right. I am turning from vengeful fury to righteous wrath.

I have never been so right about anything.

The bollards must go!

I shall lead my people in the cause!

But what if it gets a bit awkward at Mrs Lucas's drinks and nibbles party on the 27th?

No Bother, did a spot of potential social awkwardness prevent the Dr. Martin Luther King from walking the bridge at Selma?
Did a disquieting sense of social unease upset Nelson Mandela before he strode out of prison in 1990? Was Mrs Thatcher concerned about the impression it might create at the Argentine embassy cocktail lunch in 1982?


In order to pursue this properly I must find out who owns this land. They will be my number one suspect.

I have by this point aquired an ally in my struggle.

My dad.

A semi retired gentleman who likes nothing more than phoning our elected officals and asking them questions about bollards. I would have done this myself but I was teaching all day and also stoking my righteous anger and thinking of the court battles to follow

" Your honour, I will now point to article 234.4, subsection F of the Norfolk County Council Highways act 1956...."
I would swish about the courtroom, making the jury weep with pity for my predicament before delivering justice.

I went through my legal papers, deeds of ownership, even a note from my solicitor about my LEGAL RIGHTS OF ACCESS TO THE REAR OF MY PROPERTY!

My human rights were being harassed, My civil rights were being squashed. Who controls the bollards? Am I being watched? Could an anonymous, unelected neighbour lock me in my own home?
This was like what Hitler did to Czechoslovakia.

I was gearing up for the long struggle ahead.

Then my dad called.

"Hello son, it seems that the County council erected the bollards following a series of complaints from residents about illegal parking. The County council undertook a consultation process with the residents and following the views expressed in the aforementioned consultation process the bollards were erected at the top of your dog legged access road".

(He doesn't actually talk like that).

It was the County council after all.

But why had they denied all knowledge?

It seems that I had spoken to the wrong department, I should have spoken to the highways department, I was talking to the rights of way department.

So that was that, I was beaten. My vengeful wrath and righteous fury evaporated.

It seems that while I was away in the US of Stateside a legal and slightly thorough process of complaint and consultation took place. There had been a problem and the elected authorities did something about it. Democracy in action.
Thank god, I can attend Mrs Lucas's drinks and nibbles party on the 27th with an easy heart, gather in her kitchen with other nieghbours and talk about our kids and running and stuff.

But whilst I'm happy that the bollards are legitimate, that they were erected by a democratically elected council, that I can complain about them if I wish, that I have a reference number to quote in all communications with the council and that I won't have to start an all out neighbourhood war, I am still baffled by the heavy handed response to a few dodgy parkers and the simple fact that I need to get in and out of my car twice every time I want to go anywhere.


On Friday morning somebody had crashed into one of the new bollards. I felt a bit bad for whoever had just wrecked their bumper but quietly happy about this possible act of sabotage. The council fixed it that morning.

On Saturday afternoon I asked a friend to get out and unlock the bloody bollard so I could get the bloody car through in order to park in my bloody space at the back of my bloody house (it was raining as well).
He gets out, has a look and says " I reckon you could drive through there".

He was bloody right.

My small yet perfectly formed french motor can squeeze through the gap between two of the bollards without unlocking any of them! I never need to get out of my car!

We drove down to the house singing lines from 'Fight The Power' by Public Enemy.

I now have no problem with the stupid bollards at all.

I am calm again.

Happy even.

I am mostly delighted that an unpleasant and costly neighbourhod war type thing has been averted, and that I have not turned into a ranting Basil Fawlty earlier than is inevitable.

I have also just realised that I now live in a gated community, sort of.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Update, bollards and library books.

Right, I'm off out in a moment so I thought I'd share a few snippets of the daily grind.

1. It's getting cold and windy. This is better than cold and wet and definately better than cold and snowy.

2. I've been directing the Y5/6 Christmas performance. It's a Karmic revenge for my uncontrolled mirth when I found out that Listmaker would have to direct a school performance in the spring. I have grumpy Angels who shove each other all over the stage, shepherds who blissfully ignore everything that goes on around them, the campest roman soldiers you'll see this side of the West End and an absentee Joseph which leaves single mum Mary toting the lil baby Jesus all over ancient Palestine in search of an inn. Oh, did I mention the Inkeepers? They sing the opening number and reject the pleas of the Holy Mother in search of a resting place. They relish their singing and their rejection of Mary. Everyone ignores the lil baby Jesus as they compete to be the most singingest/dancingest members of the cast. The Three Wise Men are superb. Looking at the stage it's clear that all the talent is on the right and all the animals are on the left. The Angels are still grumpy and shovey.

3. Bollards have been erected in my access road. I thought this was the work of a neighbour but have since discovered that the County Council have done this. I will post in much greater detail on this matter.

4. I've discovered the joy of internet library use. You log in, search the catalogue and in a few days an email appears which tells you your selection has been delivered to your local branch! All for 55p a reservation. Coolio!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Book learning #40

The Machine Gunners by Robert Westall.

I first read this book just before the BBC adaptation in the early/mid 1980's. It stood out as one of the most enjoyable books of my childhood and one of the first books beyond the Roald Dahl/Michael Rosen obsessed pre teen years of reading (I was a few years away from presidential biographies at this point).

I just read it to my class. It's a very English book, set on the blitzed out home front of World War two, full of coppers and milk bottles, jerries and shrapnel and the school culture and rough and tumble of the 1940's. I knew that my American kids were too young and too, well, not English enough to understand or enjoy this book. I was delighted to be able to read it to an appreciative audience.

OK, I was happy to read it to my class. They really weren't that appreciative. I think sometimes they just put up with my choices. I think most of them enjoyed it but when we discussed it after reading there were some very honest opinions expressed. It's certainly more of a boy's book and there aren't a huge ammount of laughs. It is about a boy who wrenches a machine gun off a crashed German bomber and gets into all sorts of scrapes with his friends, a German pilot and a simple fella who collects milk bottles and says "where you going now?".

On the other hand, as an adult reading a very well written and highly acclaimed children's classic, there are many plusses to this book that my class may have missed. The interpretation of the Home Front seems more believable than many other books, the angst of family life was great, the shit scared descriptions of air raids, the fumbling German airman hiding from the authorities who stumbles into the gang of kids, all great stuff.

Worth a look.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

book learning #39

The Progressive Patriot. A search for belonging by Billy Bragg.

Ever since I picked up the 12 inch single "Greetings to the new brunette" in January 1987 I have been wedded to Billy Bragg.
It's been a pretty good marriage, there have been times when all I needed was to listen to 'Worker's playtime' or 'Talking to the taxman about poetry' and all was well. I had Uncle Bill, those strange teenage years were bearable.

Then came 'Sexuality' and all that success.

Then came some truly lean years.

I kept the faith and I kept going to gigs, I just lived in a different place, a different time.
I think that at one gig Uncle Bill talked a lot about his wife and son and how hard it is to get a babysitter and I felt pretty much marginalised. Added to which I thought that the album he was promoting was crap. I have always loved his hostile attitude to nostalgia but dammit, if there's one man who can make me feel nostalgic for so many things it's Billy Bragg 1983-1988!

However, I saw him a couple of years ago in New York and loved every minute of it, my estranged Uncle Bill had come home. OK, he'd not really come home,it was more like he was attending a family function on good behaviour, but still, here he was, just as chatty as ever and playing all his old classics in a gorgeous venue.

So, I read his book.

In the midst of a self imposed enquiry about Englishness and what it means, a self imposed thought fest about returning to England, I picked up this book and began to read.

Bragg tackles a most complex issue, a complex issue for any nation, the idea of national identity and awareness.


It's not all that intense, it flows in the way that an Uncle Billy mid gig chat flows, he fills it with family history (he is an incredible and quite fascinating geek) and a left centred view on English domestic history. He quotes heavyweights such as George Orwell and Sir Winston Churchill as well as lighter notes Sir John Major and Lord Tebbit. Billy takes you on a ride and it's a great conversation, I love the fact that he apologises several times for being a Londoner who now lives by the sea in devon!

All this made me realise that you could read a book a day on Englishness (Billy makes the distinction that this bok is about being English, not British) and still not get halfway close to an understanding. It also made me realise that whilst I don't rate much of Billy's recent musical output, he's not a half bad writer (always was a superb lyrical poet) and his books certainly hold the reader and keep the interest. yes, it's a geeky read full of semi obscure English history and the need for a formal, written constitution, but it's also dead entertaining.