Friday, May 30, 2014

Ryton Hirings

chicks at Ryton Hirings May 14

Last weekend we had no break from the election battle. On Saturday I had agreed to run a stall at the Ryton Hirings to promote the Marley Hill Community Cafe and the local food trading network I am gradually building up. The idea with the network is that people who have grown food in their garden or allotment and have produced more than they need can swap it for other people's surplus. We swap our preserves and eggs for other people's vegetables, fruit, game, fish, even homemade soap. Some of these are used in the Community Cafe. Running the stall meant I had no chance to look around the fair. However, our recently hatched chicks proved a hit with visitors. A steady stream of people wanted photos taken and there was quite a bit of interest in how we hatch and raise them.

On Sunday we then had the cafe itself to run. No rest for the wicked....

Station refurbishment - awaiting East Coast sale

Newcastle Central Station May 14 2

I had to pop over to Newcastle this morning, after a meeting at Gateshead Civic Centre, to pick up some rail tickets. For the first time I was able to go into the redesigned portico at the front of Newcastle Central Station. Once the taxi rank and drop off and pick up point for passengers (I am no longer having to do that every week to go to London thankfully), the portico is now enclosed and is a ticketing area. Network Rail have done a good job.

Newcastle Central Station May 14 1

The final improvement will come with the transfer of East Coast Trains to an owner committed to running a good, competitive service. Hopefully, the ghost of National Express and their botched handling of the line will be laid to rest. In my 10 years of travelling to and from London from 2000-09, I rate GNER the best. The service was well run, I rarely encountered problems and the tickets were reasonably priced. National Express were as disaster. Trains were cancelled on a regular basis. The service went down hill. East Coast Trains, the present operator, run a good service but prices of unregulated fares have risen considerably.

We await the decision on who the new operator will be - we will find out early next year.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

How the projection and reality compare

As I have previously written, Whickham North ward in Gateshead was one of the Labour Party's top target council seats in the North East in the local elections last week. Despite a campaign that soaked up nearly every available Labour resource, including taking people from at least one ward which they were expecting to win but lost on the day, the Lib Dem defending councillor, Peter Craig, held on with an increased majority of 300.

It is fair to say that at 9pm on Thursday evening, we had a few jitters. We had the polling station turnout figures and in a raw state, we started to think that an increased turnout was taking place in the two districts where Labour's vote is more concentrated. We ran the figures by Connect and compared them to the other polling districts and the postal voter numbers. The two districts where we are stronger were performing much better but that was no different to the last elections. Those two districts always have higher turnouts. Was the small increase in the two Labour-leaning districts in this marginal ward meaning that Labour had succeeded in getting out their vote? After all, their entire campaign was all about energising their supporters to turn out. Had they succeeded enough just to slip ahead of us? The answer turned out to be No.

By the end of the verification the next morning I had enough presumptions and figures, including the actual turnouts in each district, and the total of returned postal votes, to work out a projected result. There was a gap of about an hour before the actual counts were due to begin so everyone shifted over to the cafe where we were able to work out the figures. My projected result is below (the actual results are in the first brackets, the results from 2012 are in the 2nd):

  • Lib Dem 1221 (1264) (1282)
  • Labour 904 (963) (1188)
  • UKIP 545 (445) (-)
  • Con 135 (144) (164)
Whilst generally, the projection is sound, the bit that was noticeably different to the actual result was the UKIP vote. We have some conclusions on this but we aren't going to share them with political opponents by publishing them here, other than to say that UKIP were able to make modest inroads in this election into layers of Labour vote which Labour should be concerned about being vulnerable, but they were not able to attract other groups of voters to the same degree. Hence the reason for detecting increased turnout in Labour areas but a lower Labour vote.

The conclusions we have drawn can only be taken as a small jigsaw piece in a bigger picture. Whickham North is a ward that used to be safely Labour but went Lib Dem first in 1992 and has remained Lib Dem ever since, sometimes comfortably so, sometimes as a marginal. It has been thoroughly worked by the Lib Dems for a generation and for the last few months by Labour. The ward therefore does not count as representative of the bigger picture, but is simply a part of what is an overall complicated political landscape.

One conclusion however that I am happy to share with Lib Dems and opponents alike is that where we have continued to work a ward, we have a much better opportunity of weathering whatever political storms the national situation throws at us. It doesn't always save us, but it not half helps!

Anyway, last Friday in the cafe we were able to relax a little after I finished working out the projected result. We could see the Labour people a couple of tables away. Their body language said they knew they had lost. A couple of hours later they knew for real.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Labour's thrashing in Whickham North and Ryton

Put aside party differences for a moment. Standing in an election in which you have a good expectation of winning but then coming second is not good for raising spirits. Months, for some people years, have been dedicated to the cause. Shoes were worn out on the streets, knuckles were chewed by aggressive letter boxes, life has been put on hold for ages only to come in as runner-up in a contest in which there is no prize for second place. I've been there myself (Hexham 1992).

So, my sympathies go to Labour's Chris McHugh in Whickham North here in Gateshead. He fought Labour's cause hard. He canvassed and delivered his election leaflets. He had all the resources his election team could put into his campaign. Labour MPs visited and announced the Lib Dems were going to lose there. Euro candidates came storming in to back the campaign. Certain Labour councillors seemed to have taken up temporary residence in the ward, such was the frequency of their appearances. The regional Labour party was taking an active interest. The ward was swamped on polling day with Labour members from Northumberland. This was a big operation for Labour - but sadly for Mr McHugh (though happily for us), it went horribly wrong. Far from seeing himself overturn a Lib Dem majority of just 90 from 2012, he was defeated by defending Lib Dem Councillor Peter Craig by 300 votes.

For Mr McHugh, this must have felt something like deja vu. In 2012 he was Labour candidate in the neighbouring Dunston Hill and Whickham East ward. We had lost two seats in the ward to Labour in 2010 and 2011. In the latter year, the Labour majority was 666. Labour expected to walk it. They were gutted by the sight of Lib Dem Cllr Peter Maughan being re-elected by a majority of 200. Alas, our own candidate this year, Kevin McClurey, was unable to follow up the win in 2012. Labour's defending Councillor held on by the skin of her teeth - at the count today her majority was only 78.

Politics in many ways is a brutal business. Once every four years we as councillors have, in effect, to reapply for our post and the interviewing committee consists of thousands of people. Sometimes, a person can be dumped from that post through no fault of their own (though sometimes the fault is very much their own). At the end of the day, that's democracy.

In Gateshead, I have now heard grumblings within Labour ranks about the extent to which the Labour Whickham North campaign soaked up resources at the expense of Ryton ward, another target for Labour. The ward had been won comfortably from the Lib Dems in 2011 and 2012. Labour were expecting the final seat to drop into their lap. Ryton Councillor Liz Twist was sighted many times in Whickham North. Whilst she was away from her ward, we were working it thoroughly. From being a long way behind in 2012, our defending Councillor, Christine McHatton, won with a majority of over 100 this time. Labour miscalculated badly on this, not that I'm complaining! Well done to the Labour campaign organiser who helped achieved this spectacular turn around in local political fortunes for the Lib Dems.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

eFocus 85

Tonight's job was to write and send out edition number 85 of our email newsletter. It went to about 1700 addresses. You can read it on this link.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Washingwell history project

I had quite a merry morning yesterday - a site visit to Washingwell Woods and Fugar Bar, most of which is in my ward. I have been wanting to get off the ground a history project about the area for some years. My first plan was to restore the ancient orchard that was once part of the medieval Fugar House (which was demolished in the early 1950s. The old orchard has clung to life, overgrown and largely neglected. The project however has grown into one that draws out the history of the area, starting with the Roman fort at Washingwell, through the medieval Fugar period, the Tudor culvert and wooden waggonways and the Tanfield Railway, the world's longest running steam rail system.

Sunniside History Society has agreed to be the body that leads on the project. The site visit yesterday was accompanied by council officers who are considering a funding bid of £1000 to the Local Community Fund. If this goes ahead, it will open the doors to a Heritage Lottery Fund bid of £29,000 that will allow us to draw out the history of the area.

The site visit went well. The sunny weather helped. Trudging about in the rain would not have been good!

Riverside Academy bee rescue

bumblebees in nest box May 14 2

A couple of weeks ago I rescued 3 feral honey bee colonies from Sun Hill in Sunniside. The building is being demolished and the bees faced extermination or rescue by me. News has got around of the rescue and as a result, I was contacted by Riverside Academy, down the road in Dunston. The school had a bird nest box on the wall next to a door onto the school yard. A bumblebee colony was living in it and one child had already suffered a sting. I paid the school a visit last week to have a look and found that the bees could be rescued quite easily and moved to a new site.

Last night I made the return visit to do my bee-Thunderbirds rescue. The work had to be done late as bumblebees continue working much later in the day than honeybees. So we were at the school at 9pm, taped up the entrance to the nest box, unscrewed it from the wall, placed it carefully in our swarm box and put it in the car to take to its new location. By 10.30pm we had it in place on another wall near my house in Sunniside.

I checked on the colony this morning and saw bees flying in and out. (See above photo). Job done. Just waiting for the next bee rescue call. Thunderbees are go!

Monday, May 19, 2014

When in uniform, be careful what you do

There has been some degree of amusement in the Lib Dem camp here in Gateshead about a leaflet the Labour party has put out in Whickham North ward. This Lib Dem held marginal ward (our majority is only 4%) has attracted a Labour candidate who spectacularly lost neighbouring Dunston Hill and Whickham East ward in the last local elections. In 2012 he was defending a Labour majority of 600 from the previous year though we were defending our one seat in the ward. Lib Dem Councillor Peter Maughan came out the winner, turning round the 600 deficit into a 200 vote majority.

I think I have only met the Labour candidate, Chris McHugh, once - when he tried to gatecrash the councillors' section of the Remembrance Day parade in November 2011, feebly assisted by Yvonne McNichol, one of the two Labour councillors for Dunston Hill and Whickham East. When I brought to Mrs McNichol's attention the potential problems of turning Remembrance Day into a political stunt, she sent Mr McHugh packing.

Anyway, back to the current election. The leaflet delivered this weekend contains photos of three people, each with Mr McHugh (one of the pictures reminds me of Laurel and Hardy!). Presumably these people are purporting to be ordinary local residents. Except.....

Jim Hewson was Labour candidate in the ward in 2004. Billy Wigham is a Labour activist. And Nora Earl is the wife of Frank, who was himself Labour candidate in Whickham North a few years ago and who worked for the Labour MP here (David Call-Me-Dave Anderson). Furthermore, Nora Earl doesn't even live in the ward. So unlike Mr Hewson, Nora Earl is unable to say she is voting for Mr McHugh. Instead she is "endorsing" him.

And there lies a problem. Nora Earl is a school crossing patrol person - a lollipop lady. And in the photo she is in uniform, issued by Gateshead Council, along with her crossing patrol sign (the "lollipop"). Now then, endorsing a political party as a private individual is one thing, even if you do have to be imported into the ward as Labour aren't able to persuade anyone there to back Mr McHugh publicly). Endorsing a party political candidate whilst in one's official council capacity is something else. I understand on the grapevine that at least one complaint may be crossing the road right now on its way to the Council's chief executive.


Sunday, May 18, 2014

Watergate Sandals

Lovely heat and sun yesterday soaked up on yet another leaflet delivery session, this time in the Watergate Estate in Dunston Hill and Whickham East ward, where Labour Councillor and former debt collector Allison Chatto is defending. The debt collector bit is not mentioned in her election leaflet. Instead, she claims that, "Most of my working life has been spent working for trade union law firms." Anyway, I had nearly 200 letters to deliver to supporters and people who had signed previous petitions on opencast mining.

Large parts of the Watergate Estate consist of terraces which front onto large greens. It is a large patch to deliver but relatively easy to do. And with the sun out yesterday, lots of people were taking the opportunity to enjoy the weather. The deck chairs were out in force. Though is not my ward, I was recognised. A large group of young people were having what could be described as a party on the green. The householder, from the comfort of his deckchair, said, "Here come the Liberal Democrats," as I approach. It was one of those situations in which I wasn't sure if I was going to get a slamming for being in government or be the recipient of kindly remarks from someone who likes us. I am pleased to report it was the latter. Alas, I was unable to stay for his party. I had to finish the delivery run and get home to feed my goats!

The greens on the Estate can get very wet when it rains and this patch is normally done wearing boots. Yesterday, I was in sandals (well deck shoes actually) such was the weather.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Creating community gardens and allotments

I had a meeting today with Groundwork North East at Marley Hill Community Centre where we are hoping to take over the unused land beside the building to turn into community gardens and allotments. The purpose of the meeting was to consider how we can use the site and kick start the process of carrying out a feasibility study, a must-have for future grant funding. Groundwork will carry out the study which also involves consultation with residents and possible future users about how the site could be used.

I have never known this land be used before. As long as I can remember, it has simply been there, occasionally getting the grass cut by the council. My guess is that it was used for allotments during WW2 but I have no evidence for that. I will however be asking older residents to delve into their memories and I'll be contacting the Sunniside History Society to ask them to take a lead on preparing a short history of the site.

Once the feasibility study has been carried out (and assuming it concludes that it is possible to go ahead with my ideas for gardens and allotments) work will begin. And so will the process of applying for funds to pay for it all.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Swapping at the Spen

As previously reported, I visited the Hop Garden in High Spen on Sunday to swap some of my hen, duck and quail eggs for plants. I used the opportunity to film the site as well. It's a volunteer gardening scheme that took over a derelict garden and turned it into a community food growing space.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

One million photo viewings

My Flickr site has just reached a milestone. My photos have now been viewed one million times. I have a total of 6000 pictures on the site. Most nowadays are of my horticultural activities but my travel photos, and those I take for local campaigning, are added to the site as well.

So, if you really have nothing else to do and want to see pictures of my hens, beekeeping activities, stuffed marrows, Icelandic geysers and Lib Dem street stalls, click on this link.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Visiting the Hop Garden

It is now nearly 5 years since I gave up my PAYE existence to spend my time growing my own food and being self-sufficient. I'm always on the outlook for events near to where I live which can help keep us self-sufficient.

The Hop Garden is a community project in High Spen, a village in western Gateshead and only a few km from where I live. Yesterday they hosted a seed and plant swap event. I did not have time to sort seeds for swapping so I took some of our eggs instead - duck, hen and quail. In the world of self-sufficiency, eggs are like currency. Forget pounds, euros and dollars. My wallet was an egg box!

The end result was I got a load of tomato plants, some herbs and rhubarb. I also discovered they have a brick, outdoor oven. I am due to speak at a local history society in October on medieval foods. I'm hoping to use the oven therefore for some medieval bread and baking sessions.

A few shots around the Hop Garden:

I didn't get to use it but here is the compost toilet:

So, well worth a visit and I hope to be doing some more bartering there in the months ahead.

May edition of eFocus

Edition number 84 of our email newsletter eFocus has just been produced. It goes to 1600 households in the Whickham area of Gateshead. This edition features the return of the iconic butterfly beds to Whickham, an update on proposals for opencast mining, my rescue of 3 feral honeybee colonies from a building being demolished in Sunniside, improvements to Cross Lane Meadows in Swalwell and lots of other stories. You can see eFocus here.

Writing to opencast petitioners

9 years ago I lead the battle to defeat proposals for opencast mining at Skons Park near Whickham. The site overlooked the historic Gibside Estate and was on a prominent location in the Derwent Valley. The campaign was a success. The plans were rejected by Gateshead Council's planning committee and the applicant was all set to mount an appeal but withdrew at the last moment. Thousands of people signed the petition I wrote. That included nearly 2000 of my constituents in Whickham South and Sunniside - a quarter of the electorate. Across the other two Whickham wards, over 1000 signed. Thousands more signatures were collected by the National Trust, owners of Gibside. Signatures were also collected in Burnopfield, just across the boundary in County Durham.

I warned at the time that, despite winning the battle, we had to remain vigilant. The countryside here is peppered with small seams of coal near the surface. The only way to mine them is through opencasting. Sure enough, we are now getting new opencast applications. We have just defeated one, at Birklands, just outside my ward. A second, at Marley Hill, in my ward, is due to be decided soon.

If this application goes ahead, it will affect the whole area as the coal will need to be transported through local villages and along heavily congested roads. The Lib Dems have taken the lead in campaigning against this application (though Cllr Chris Ord and Cllr John McClurey are not taking part in the campaign or discussions about it as they are members of the planning committee.) What has been noticeable is that Labour are happily fence sitting on this. Indeed, their election leaflet in Whickham South and Sunniside and in Dunston Hill and Whickham East talk about the advantages if the plans go ahead. I've not seen their Whickham North election leaflet yet but my guess is that it will say the same thing. Labour sit on the fence and leave key local issues to the Lib Dems to tackle - that in itself is becoming quite an election issue across all three of the Whickham wards and in Lobley Hill and Bensham.

To ensure people are kept up to date with what's happening, I am in the middle of preparing a letter to go to those who signed the Skon's Park petition in 2005/6 who are still on the electoral register. Across the three wards, this still amounts to a substantial number of people. The letters for Whickham North and Dunston Hill and Whickham East wards are now ready. The ones for my ward are currently at the mailmerge stage.

Given that certain local Labour members are avid readers of this blog, my message to you is get off the fence, follow our lead and join us in defeating this opencast plan.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Dodging the rain

It started well, a day dedicated to deliveries. I started in the morning and delivered letters and leaflets to my own constituents in Sunniside and then moved on to Marley Hill. After a quick call on Dad's allotment there, I went home. The sun was still shining, sort of, at that point. Lunch back home and then I headed down to the Watergate Estate. In between bursts of heavy rain, I managed to deliver a couple of hundred letters and leaflets. Alas, the outer layer of leaflets in the bundle I was carrying got a thorough soaking and ended up looking like a Labour policy commitment - wet, mushy and falling apart on one's hands. Fortunately, those underneath were dry and deliverable (the latter is not a word I would associate with Labour policy).

Meanwhile, the Labour leaflet in my ward has arrived but no sight yet of the local UKIP or Conservative leaflets (we haven't had a Conservative local election leaflet delivered here for 24 years.) We also have a 5th party standing in my ward - "Trade Unionists and Socialists Against the Cuts". By my reckoning, this is the first time ever in my ward that a socialist has ever stood.

Less than 2 weeks to go now until it's all over.

Friday, May 09, 2014

UKIP cockup: now there are 17 leaflets with illegal imprints

UKIP's attempts to storm to success in the local elections in Newcastle and Gateshead seem to be floundering. I reported last week that Ukippers had circulated a local election leaflet in Dunston Hill and Whickham East ward with a totally inadequate and illegal imprint. Now, I hear that a total of 17 UKIP leaflets in Gateshead and Newcastle are suffering from the same problem. I also believe that the problem has been drawn to the attention of the UKIP agent. I have no intelligence as to what has happened to any offending (offensive?) leaflets not yet circulated but it is noticeable that the equivalent local election leaflets have not yet appeared in mine or the neighbouring ward of Whickham North, though the national leaflets have been delivered (courtesy of Royal Mail). I am presuming that the paper recycling industry is now dealing with an unexpected supply of raw materials.

Fulsome praise of me from a Labour councillor!

It's not every day that I get an email from a Labour councillor containing fulsome praise of me. Well, recently I did. It followed a planning committee meeting in Gateshead that rejected an application to opencast a site at Birklands in Lamesley ward, which neighbours my own ward of Whickham South and Sunniside. I had fought the application since it was first submitted in 2011. I had delivered leaflets about it in villages such as Lamesley and Kibblesworth, as well as in my own ward. At the planning committee meeting last month, I represented residents opposed to the plans.

Some time afterwards, Christine Bradley, Labour councillor for Lamesley, emailed me to say, "Congratulations on the fact that your efforts and objection speech won the day and the application was refused.”

I have now included this quote in Focuses and letters now being delivered in various wards in Gateshead as part of the current election campaigns. I did email Cllr Bradley to ask if she had any more nice quotes I could use but alas, she is yet to reply.

In her original email, she took issue with me about the level of interest in the campaign shown by Labour councillors. She cited the fact she had met objectors a whole week before the planning committee as evidence of her commitment to the cause. I, on the other hand, first met the residents (her constituents) to campaign against the application, nearly 3 years ago. I have no reason to doubt her commitment to the defeat of the opencast plans but what I was never able to see was active Labour involvement in the campaign itself.

She finished her email, sadly in my view, with what could be regarded as a bit of an insulting remark. Given that she sent her email to me using her council email address, I am left wondering if this is an appropriate use of council facilities. Indeed, this is a question I put to her in an email. I am awaiting a reply!

There is another opencast application, this time at Marley Hill, in my ward. I am leading the campaign against this. One area that would be affected by the lorries from the site if given the go ahead is Lobley Hill/Dunston Hill. Our campaign is being well received there. Lots of people have signed our petition opposing the application. A decision on it is expected soon.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

27 years ago today

27 years ago today, I was first elected to Gateshead Council. My ward then was larger than it is now but had a shorter name. Then it was Whickham South. Now it is Whickham South and Sunniside. My most endearing memory of polling day in 1987 was turning up for the count. In those days each ward was counted separately in its own ward. My count was at the Parochial School. All three main parties were confident of winning though why Labour thought they were coasting to victory was beyond me - all the indications in the ward were that their vote was going down. (Perhaps there are lessons for Labour here - they are behaving now as if victory is assured in certain wards in Gateshead. They made the same mistake in 2012 - and in other years as well. They don't learn quickly.)

The ward itself had been strongly though not safely Conservative. 1986 had been a bad year for the Conservatives in the local elections. That had helped us to win the seat from the Conservatives that year. We won with 47% of the vote, over 700 ahead of Labour who moved into 2nd place, and 1000 ahead of the Conservatives.

As we have elections by thirds, all I had to do was repeat the result when I was standing in the ward in 1987. The national political climate however had changed significantly. The Conservatives were on the up, Labour had lost a large amount of the support they had gained over the previous year. Those who believe that the national swing can on its own be the deciding factor on our patch need to learn the lesson we learnt decades ago - national swings help but if the work on the ground isn't done, victory is harder to achieve.

The Conservative councillor due for re-election in 1987 had decided to retire. The Conservatives chose the same candidate who had lost in the previous year. He was a retired teacher. I was a 23-year-old university student at the time. We had had one confrontation with each other during the campaign. Whilst out canvassing we bumped into each other in a street. He was accompanied by someone who could only be described as "Mr Angry". The Conservative candidate ordered me out of the street. I suggested that he could not order me around at which point Mr Angry sneered at me: "Mr Stokoe [the candidate] is a respected member of the community and he is not going to be spoken to by some kid like you."

"We shall see what the voters think of that," I replied. I had no desire to knock on doors of people who had just been disturbed by the Conservatives so I said I was going into the next street to canvass and politely suggested they refrain from going there that evening.

When I arrived at my count, the first person who spoke to me was the last remaining Conservative councillor in the ward. Indeed, he actually hunted me out, walking across the room to me to say, "Hello, I wish you a good second position." "I wish you the same," was my reply though whether or not he heard it I wasn't sure as he walked away as soon as he finished his well-prepared and very short greeting.

The final result was that I got 49% of the vote and a majority of 856 over the Conservatives. Labour slipped back into 3rd place. The look of astonishment on the faces of all our opponents was incredible!

We won the final Conservative seat in 1988 when we were in the middle of the SDP/Liberal merger and the opinion polls made our current poll ratings look dizzyingly high. The Conservatives again slipped back into 3rd place and have been there ever since though for a number of years they had a residual support that could give them quite a few hundred votes in local elections in the ward. That had shrunk to a typical 200 or so votes in the late 90s. There has been no election leaflet from the Conservatives since 1990. On our patch, they have all but disappeared.

Labour have eyed the ward before but only once put in a concerted attempt to take it from me. It was however so cack handed that Labour's vote suffered a significant collapse and they have never recovered from their disastrous campaign.

Bee rescue job - the video

Yesterday was another early start for me as we needed to be in the old Sun Hill in Sunniside at 7.30am to move the three hives we had set up last week containing the feral bee colonies I had rescued from the roof space of the building. We have moved the hives temporarily to one of my apiaries but their eventual location will be the land next to Marley Hill Community Centre. Our aim is to take over this land to turn it into community gardens and allotments. At the management committee meeting yesterday, we agreed that the hives will be part of a community beekeeping project and future honey sales will support the Community Centre.

The video above was filmed over the past week - from when I first checked out the colonies, through cutting them from the roof to put into hives, to taking them to my apiary. The last filming was done yesterday morning. I had the video edited in time to give it a premiere viewing at the monthly Sunniside Local History Society meeting last night. It was well received.

Monday, May 05, 2014

And the winner is.....Crispy Duck!

These are my rare breed Welsh Harlequin ducklings. I hatched them in mid April and when they were just a few days old, we took them to Marley Hill Community Centre for people to see at the craft market we ran on Easter Monday. We had a free competition (mainly for kids though a few parental contributions were received) to come up with the best name for a duckling.

I'm pleased to announced that Ashleigh of Marley Hill was the winner (the prize was a chocolate Easter egg). The suggestion of "Crispy" as the name rather amused us!

We are hoping to have some chicks to take to the next craft market at Marley Hill on 25th May. We have the eggs in the incubator now and they are due to hatch a week tomorrow. However, our area had a major power cut on Friday. The electricity was down for nearly two and a half hours. I wrapped the eggs in a blanket with a bottle of hot water but I'm not sure they survived. We will persevere with them in the hope they survived but as a back up measure, we will put more eggs in another incubator - this is a much bigger one which a resident of Marley Hill has lent to us. These new eggs won't have hatched in time for the craft market but they will be ready for the May Fayre at Whickham's Chase Park which this year is in June!

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Shoe leather destruction process

On Friday night I delivered 120 Focuses on the Rectory Estate in Whickham North, on Saturday I delivered 370 on the Watergate Estate in Dunston Hill and Whickham East and 200 in my own ward of Whickham South and Sunniside. Today, I delivered 300 in my own ward again. That leaves me 10 short of my target of 1000. Looks like I will have to have another go at the record.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Some photos from the inside of Sun Hill

Demolition of Sun Hill Aged Person's Home is progressing well. I was in the building this morning before 8am to rescue 3 feral honey bee colonies. It gave me the opportunity to snap a handful of photos of the building before it is gone forever.

Sun Hill is being demolished because a new Sun Hill has been built on neighbouring land. This new Sun Hill rather exposes the lie of the Labour party that the Coalition is denying our area any money (claims which are normally tied up with Lib-Dems-eat-your-babies-for-breakfast allegations by the so-called "socialists" of the Labour party in Gateshead). The new building was paid for with government cash.

Meanwhile, I can report that the rescue of the bee colonies appears to be successful. They will be the start of the community beekeeping project I am setting up.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

My latest email newsletter for residents

I forgot to post this link in April so here it is. It's my latest eFocus to residents of the Whickham area. The email newsletter goes directly to about 1500 households and about 100 businesses. We are aware that many people forward it on to others as well. I call it the ripple effect.