Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Long distance swarm recovery

Typical! The moment I go away an email arrives asking if I could recover a bee swarm that had formed up in a garden in Marley Hill, the next village up the road from Sunniside where I live. On Thursday last week I arrived at Newcastle Central Station and whilst waiting for my train to London to arrive, the email reached me. Fortunately, a person living near the garden is a former beekeeper and knew how to catch the swarm. David was not joining me on my trip so I called him to ask if he could collect the swarm. In the early hours of Friday morning, he collected the swarm which was in a skep which he then wrapped in a sheet and took to one of our apiaries where he had already set up a hive. I was on my way to Stansted airport when David's photo of the new hive arrived.

A day later and I was in Copenhagen. Another message arrived, this time from Hexham Beekeepers Association to local members. A bee swarm had formed up at Burnopfield. Could anyone collect it? I sent David a message about it but the reply came back that we had now run out of hive equipment. We don't know if anyone managed to collect the swarm.

Last week, before I went away, I had 3 visits to constituents to advise them on bumble bees in their garden. I anticipate there will be more calls from residents after I get back later today especially as I will be including an article about bees in gardens in the forthcoming eFocus.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

From shipping containers to CAB

Gateshead CAB June 14 2

I was contacted recently by Gateshead CAB who were seeking my advice on possible locations for an advice terminal they want to install in Sunniside. I suggested the Social Club could be a possible location but I also wanted to see what the terminal could do. On Friday, between attending the Gateshead Carers' Association allotment launch and annual council, I paid Gateshead CAB a visit to look at one of the terminals in action. It is quite comprehensive, covering everything from legal advice, tax, housing, health, money etc. There was even a link to DEFRA (useful for us hen, goat and beekeepers). I was also surprised at how small the terminal was. I've put the CAB in touch with the chairman of the club so hopefully some kind of arrangement will be made.

This was my first visit to the new CAB building since they moved from Regent Terrace. I was given a guided tour and was rather pleased to learn that the building was constructed from recycled shipping containers. An interesting and sustainable use of someone else's waste. That certainly gets a gold star in my book.

Gateshead CAB June 14 1

The wet look

Jonathan in rain Chase Park June 14

Somehow the weather has not been a fan of the Whickham Chase Park Fayre in the last two years. Last year the Fayre was cancelled at the last moment because the ground was waterlogged from the rain. This year the rain held off long enough to allow the Fayre to go ahead, and then it started raining. My colleague, Cllr Peter Craig, took this photo of me at the Fayre last week. The wet look seems to be back in!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Out and about: Winlaton Mill Community Centre Fayre

Jonathan at Winlaton Mill June 14

I had a short break from beekeeping and vegetable planting today to go to Winlaton Mill Community Centre Fayre. And as soon as I arrived, I saw the table selling plants. An opportunity to stock up on lettuces for transplanting cannot be ignored. Two trays of plants later, and a check around the other stalls and I was ready to go back home - I had news of another bee swarm I had to collect so staying for a cup of tea was out of the question.

Friday, June 13, 2014

More news from the annual Gateshead Labour group meeting

Mayor Neil Weatherley June 14

Gateshead's annual council meeting was held this afternoon. I had previously reported on the diminished fortunes of Paul Foy-The-Flop and Gary Haley, both responsible for the car crash style Labour campaigns in the local elections in Whickham. We had been reliably informed by sources within Labour's ranks that both had met with a big thumbs down when internal elections were held for positions on the Council. What I didn't know was the position each had stood for. Well, today we were able to fill in more of the picture. It turns out that Mr Haley stood for 4 or 5 senior positions and was knocked back on every single one of them. It seems he is as popular in his own group as he was with the voters in Whickham when he was rejected 5 times by them. He certainly has a knack of keeping up the losing streak.

Annual Council appoints the mayor for the year and this year it is to be Neil Weatherley, a tax collector. That shouldn't be held against him! We also discovered who the deputy mayor is  - Alex Geddes who easily beat Allison Chatto and Lee Holmes for the post when Labour cast their votes at their annual meeting recently. I couldn't quite pin down the actual voting figures but sources suggest Alex got over 30 votes, Cllr Allison Former-Debt-Collector-Chatto got about 10 and Lee Holmes got about 7.

Prize for the worst speech today goes to Foy-The-Flop. He nominated Cllr Weatherley for the post of Mayor but he stumbled through his speech, misread words, hesitated constantly and shook constantly. He did not exactly inspire his colleagues as someone able to fill a future leadership role within the Labour group.

One of the oddest things today was the inability of Labour to complete their nominations for their committee places. They have had three weeks to do this but Labour Leader Mick Henry announced that the final nominations were not yet settled. Just what Labour have been up to over the past three weeks is not clear.

Wearing a suit to the allotment

Suit wearing on the allotment June 14

Gone are the days when I wore a suit to the office. Indeed, gone have the days when I went to an office! Suit wearing for me is now a rare event. Most of the time I'm dressed in baggy trousers and a t-shirt to hangout down on the allotment and muck out the goats. Today however I was back in the suit to visit an allotment. Not my allotment of course. This morning I went instead to the official opening of the Gateshead Carers' Association allotment in Bensham. The official opening was done by Ian Mearns MP. A modest number of people there knew who I was - the "gardening councillor" and the "bloke with the quail eggs" seemed to be the most popular descriptions. A BBQ was held there as well though I could only stay for a couple of sausages before heading off to Gateshead for my next meeting.

Promoting the food network at Saltwell Park

Stall at Saltwell Park June 14

One of my life missions is to inspire people to grow more of the food they consume. For me, it's not just about talking about it. It's about doing it as well. That's one of the reasons I opted to take redundancy 5 years ago, so that I could concentrate on the good life here in Sunniside, growing my own food and keeping hens, ducks, quail, goats,bees and so on. We soon discovered that you cannot produce everything yourself but there are others out there who can produce what we can't and are happy to swap their surplus for ours. That's what the food trading network I am building up is all about.

On Wednesday, Gateshead Carers' Association held a fayre in Saltwell Park so I took a stall there to promote the network. It is based at Marley Hill Community Centre and on the last Sunday of each month, we hold a cafe and food swapping event. People can bring in their surplus fruit and veg and swap it for our eggs, preserves, tamworth pork and honey. Some of the produce is used in the cafe. If you don't have anything to trade, we take that old-fashioned thing called money instead.

So far we have traded for pheasant, wild duck and rabbits, venison, plants, beef, homemade soap, lamb, trays of apples, sacks of potatoes, frozen veg and so on.

On Wednesday, I took some of our recently hatched chicks to Saltwell Park. They are always guaranteed to attract people to my stall. Wednesday was no different!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Back to the Future at Beamish

Beamish Museum June 14 (11)

The recent news that Beamish Museum is to be awarded £600,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund to complete the bid for a further £10 million towards the cost of the next phase of the Museum's development was celebrated tonight at an event for business people. If all goes to plan, Beamish will recreate a 1950s town centre. The former Airey prefabricated homes carefully dismantled and moved from Kibblesworth will be rebuilt as part of the development. The other part of the bid is the completion of the 1820s section of the museum, including a coaching inn and windmill.

I went along to the event at the museum tonight. A 1950s caravan had been placed in the town and the front room of one of the terrace houses had been restored to what it would have been like in the 1950s, complete with a television showing the coronation. This all reminded me of one of my favourite films, "Back to the Future" in which Michael J Fox goes back to 1954 (admittedly a year after the coronation).

Assuming the museum is successful in its final bid for the HLF grant, the 1950s town should be completed later this decade.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Another bee rescue

swarm box June 14

I had another call today about bees in a constituent's garden. This time however it wasn't bumble bees. As soon as my constituent said there was a large cluster of them on a tree, I knew it was a honeybee swarm. I was around in minutes, complete with my smock, gloves and swarm box. Alas, this swarm decided it was not going to be straightforward capturing it. I shook it from the tree into the box but when I returned a couple of hours later, I found that the swarm had left the box and was sitting on the lawn as a perfect circle. I had never seen bees do this before.

bee swarm June 14

I had to put my gloves back on and scoop the bees up and drop them back into the box. This time, fortunately, it worked. At 9pm tonight I returned, found the whole of the swarm still in the box and took it to one of my apiaries where I had already set up a hive for it. By 9.30pm, the swarm was in its new home.

The constituent said that she had phoned the council before she phoned me. They charged her £76 for the privilege of planning to call out in a few days' time. I suggested she cancel the visit as the council does not deal with honeybee swarms (they would simply advise her, once they had seen the swarm, to call a local beekeeper who could possibly have been me anyway) and ask for her money back. I understand that was what she did. She was happy to save the money, the council was saved a wasted journey and I was happy to have recovered a swarm which hopefully will produce me some honey.

Self-Sufficient in Suburbia

Outside of politics I grow my own food and make webcasts about our activities. Our latest webcast, from February, is now on YouTube.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Foy the Flop and the joys of the secret ballot

An interesting piece of information came my way today. Following the results of the local elections in Gateshead, the Labour Leader of Gateshead Council, Mick Henry, appears to have been able to hold back the tide of those on his own side who wish to see their own promotion and the retirement of Mick and his mates. And the instrument of his success? Well, for most of us the secret ballot is something of a traditional part of the democratic process. In UK elections, it's been around since 1872. The Labour group, in an attempt to catch up with the modern world, decided to run their internal elections on the revolutionary basis of letting people cast their votes in secret. I understand from a reliable source that Mick Henry himself was the one who pushed for this great democratic innovation.

I had already heard the murmurings of discontent about the botched Labour campaigns in Ryton and Whickham North wards, both of which were being defended by Lib Dems. Ryton had been won by Labour in 2011 and 2012 with substantial majorities. The last Lib Dem seat in the ward was the prize on offer. Labour's campaign flopped and the Lib Dems held on. Topping Labour's target list however was the Lib Dem held seat of Whickham North where we were defending a majority of only 90. Labour poured in everything including the kitchen sink (though interestingly, we understand that those who were more interested in keeping things as they are in the Labour group made no appearances in the ward.) We held the seat last month - our majority went up to 300 and Labour's vote fell through the floor.

Labour agent and organiser for wards in Blaydon constituency was Paul Foy, "head" of office for Dave Anderson MP, a point he regularly makes at council meetings. Mr Foy therefore appears to be an influential and powerful figure in Labour ranks in Gateshead. He chairs the Labour group, his wife is a cabinet member, he runs Labour election campaigns, he's the boss in Mr Anderson's office. We are reliably informed that many on his own side do not wish to cross swords with him.

Cllr Foy's sidekick is Gary Haley, councillor for Dunston and Teams and a man with an unenviable record for running disastrous local election campaigns. I still look back with amusement on his three attempts to win my ward. He eventually moved on to Dunston Hill and Whickham East where the good citizens of the ward were equally unimpressed. Two failed attempts to get himself elected resulted in his jumping ship, this time to the strongly Labour ward of Dunston and Teams where a string of by-elections meant Labour were approaching the bottom of the barrel of candidates and were polishing up the scraper.

Cllr Haley was one of the key Labour campaigners in Whickham North in last month's election. Indeed, Lib Dem Cllr, Peter Craig, who was defending the seat, bumped into him on the day before polling day and said to him that he was spending a great deal of time in the ward. "Yes," Cllr Haley replied, "more time than I am in my own ward." (Cllr Haley may not wish to take his ward for granted in such a way in future - Dunston and Teams saw one of the biggest falls in the Labour vote in Gateshead, down 26%.)

Anyway, back to the Labour group meeting last week. It seems, according to our source, that the revolutionary principle of the secret ballot may have helped defeat the promotion prospects of Councillors Haley and Foy. We have not been informed of the positions to which either aspired (if anyone on the inside can tell me, please feel free to do so), but we are reliably informed that Cllr Haley in particular went down to a spectacular defeat.

So the Council Leader, Mick Henry, has survived for another year, thanks in part to the successful Lib Dem victories in all the wards we were defending which prevented the election of new Labour members who could have swung the balance within the Labour group. That, and the secret ballot. Nevertheless, he is by no means safe. He got a battering from some members of his group just before the budget. He could fall prey to another. The Labour group could provide us therefore with some interesting blood sports over the year ahead.

Fiona Hall's retirement party

Fiona Hall speaking at Baltic Gallery June 14

In between visiting constituents today about bee colonies, I went to the Baltic Art Gallery on the Gateshead Quays for Fiona Hall's retirement party. Fiona was elected very much against the odds in 2004 as the Lib Dem MEP for the North East and just as equally against the odds was re-elected in 2009. After 10 years in the post she decided to step down from the role at the European elections last month.

Angelika Schneider speaking at Baltic Gallery June 14

Among the speakers today was Angelika Schneider who, sadly, wasn't elected as our MEP last month. Lib Dems from across the region attended the event. At 5pm I had to leave as I had constituents to visit.

Gateshead Millennium Bridge June 14

Whilst the event was taking place, the Gateshead Millennium Bridge was raised. This is a sight worth seeing in its own right.

eFocus 86

My latest email newsletter to residents of the Whickham area was sent out on Friday evening. It contained reports on the local election results (2 holds for us in Whickham and a near gain from Labour), the Chase Park Fayre, Beamish Museum, the Derwent Valley Land of Oak and Iron project and other issues.

You can see the newsletter on this link.

Bee-ing busy

Sun Hill honeycomb May 14 1

Ever since I rescued three feral honey bee colonies from Sun Hill, the aged person's unit in Sunniside which is being demolished (the new building next door is now occupied by the Sun Hill residents), I have had calls from residents wanting to buy honey and asking for advice on bumble bee colonies in their gardens. Today, for example, I am visiting three different houses in the Whickham/Sunniside area to take a look at bumble bee colonies. Previously we have visited properties in Blaydon and Dunston. I am also getting messages from people via Facebook.

Many people have put up bird nest boxes only to find that instead of the birds moving in, it has been occupied by bees instead. My advice generally is to leave them alone. They will die out by the autumn. Typically, the bees will not bother you as long as you don't bother them.

Pollinators generally have suffered sharp declines in numbers over the past few decades and particularly in recent years, though last year saw a reverse in the decline. Numbers of bumble bees increased and the very mild winter meant that many more bumble bee queens have survived to set up nests this year.

Photo above - me last month with some of the honeycomb from one of the feral bee colonies I rescued at Sun Hill.

Getting a drenching

chicks at Chase Park Fayre June 14 3

Whickham Chase Park Fayre went ahead yesterday in the hope that the rain would hold off until after the event was over. Alas, it was not to be. As the opening announcement was made at midday, so the clouds opened up. It started as a light drizzle but then stopped for a bit. At about 2pm, the clouds decided to let rip. It was tipping down and there was no way the fayre could continue, despite the amazing efforts of the children's dance groups on the stage, entertaining the people huddled in the marquees and under umbrellas. (Fortunately the stage was covered).

During the period when there was no rain, my table saw brisk interest in our food swapping network and our 7-day-old chicks which we brought along. But as the weather worsened, I had to pack up the stall and head home to dry out.

Photo above: a selfie of me and the 7 day old chicks I took to the fayre.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Setting up the Chase Park Fayre

Chase Park Fayre preparations June 14 (13)

Tomorrow is the Whickham Chase Park Fayre so today I gave a hand to set up the tents, marquees, five-a-side football field and so on. I finished late this afternoon feeling as if I caught the sun. The weather forecast for tomorrow is not so good. Hopefully the rain will hold off until 4pm when we finish. Meanwhile, I am back home now preparing literature to go on the stall I will be running tomorrow to promote the community cafe and the garden and beekeeping  projects and local food trading network at Marley Hill Community Centre.

And I've also just finished the next edition of my email newsletter to residents, which will go out shortly. It features, among other things, tomorrow's fayre.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Police cadets' attestation

I got off the train from London yesterday afternoon, got home and had enough time to feed my livestock before having to change back into the suit to go to the attestation ceremony for the Gateshead police cadets. I was determined not to miss this simply because the cadets had given me a helping hand to plant some fruit trees I was given earlier this year for a community orchard we have started in Sunniside, my home village.

The police cadets in the Northumbria force first got underway in 2010. It is still early days for the project but it does seem to be going well.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Royal Garden Party

Buckingham Palace selfie June 14

I got back from a short visit to London this afternoon. I was down in the capital to sort out a number of tasks and to take up an invite to go to a royal garden party at Buckingham Palace yesterday. The invite was in recognition of my 27 years as a councillor in Gateshead. I was allowed to bring one other person so David came with me, though he came down to London and returned home on the same day - he had to get back to feed our livestock and get the poultry put away before the foxes treated them to their very own garden party. The train fares cost me an arm and a leg!

To get in to the Palace, we joined a long queue of people sporting mayoral chains, big hats and fascinators. No cameras were allowed in and phones had to be turned off. The national anthem at 4pm heralded the arrival of the queen, and the rain (which lasted about 20 minutes). Afterwards we were able to have a walk around the gardens. I did bump into two people I know - Mark Hunter MP and Don Foster MP. I think Don was there in some kind of official Whips' Office capacity though I didn't ask him what his role was (he seemed to be part of a group guiding Prince Philip through the crowds.)

And then it was time to leave. Everyone seemed to be getting out their phones to take pictures before leaving through the gates. So we snapped the above photo. It is my first ever selfie. David was suffering from a number of bee stings which he got on Sunday when doing a check on some of our hives. He was stung around the face, hence the slightly swollen eyelid.

If I were to achieve another 27 years on Gateshead Council, I shall be 77 when I reach that milestone. I wonder if that will result in a second invite!?

Monday, June 02, 2014

Cakes and casework

Sunniside Methodist Chapel's annual fayre sale took place on Saturday. I always visit it to buy plants for the garden and I'm always made to feel welcome. The cake stall is often a draw for me. The event however always results in my leaving the building with a bigger casework load than I had when entering it. Saturday was no different. As well as cakes and plants, I took home with me a list of issues about blocked drains and inconsiderately parked cars.

The cakes have now been eaten, the plants are now transplanted and the casework emails have been done. My job now is to sort out the big pile of petitions opposing opencast mining in the area that have arrived by post over the past couple of weeks.