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Wednesday, 19 December 2007

The Cultivation of Christmas Trees

We bought and decorated the Christmas tree last weekend. I always go for the non- 'non-drop' kind, because the way they smell- (all rich and of pine-forests when you come down in the morning) -more than makes up for the extra hoovering, in my books.
(Plus the decorations go easier on the branches...)

Everyone knows T.S. Eliot's poem about the Magi, but this is one that I love, and really captures the magic of Christmas that can so easily get lost in the panic about chores, turkeys and cards.

The Cultivation of Christmas Trees

There are several attitudes towards Christmas,
Some of which we may disregard:
The social, the torpid, the patently commercial,
The rowdy (the pubs being open till midnight),
And the childish -- which is not that of the child
For whom the candle is a star, and the gilded angel
Spreading its wings at the summit of the tree
Is not only a decoration, but an angel.
The child wonders at the Christmas Tree:
Let him continue in the spirit of wonder
At the Feast as an event not accepted as a pretext;
So that the glittering rapture, the amazement
Of the first-remembered Christmas Tree,
So that the surprises, delight in new possessions
(Each one with its peculiar and exciting smell),
The expectation of the goose or turkey
And the expected awe on its appearance,
So that the reverence and the gaiety
May not be forgotten in later experience,
In the bored habituation, the fatigue, the tedium,
The awareness of death, the consciousness of failure,
Or in the piety of the convert
Which may be tainted with a self-conceit
Displeasing to God and disrespectful to the children
(And here I remember also with gratitude
St. Lucy, her carol, and her crown of fire):
So that before the end, the eightieth Christmas
(By 'eightieth' meaning whichever is the last)
The accumulated memories of annual emotion
May be concentrated into a great joy
Which shall be also a great fear, as on the occasion
When fear came upon every soul:
Because the beginning shall remind us of the end
And the first coming of the second coming.

T.S. Eliot

Monday, 17 December 2007

Southmead Carol Bus bonanza

I have to admit, I thought it was real snow, when I approached the Southmead Carol Bus. ( I know, I know...) But it wasn't a completely stupid assumption, it was just the weather for snow, and what with the carols and everything... it seemed wrong that it wouldn't be snowing... On closer inspection, I enjoyed the foam snow that followed the Southmead Carol Bus.

I'd like to congratulate Cliff Howells from Southmead Pride and all those involved in organising the Southmead Carol Bus this year. I followed the bus’s procession on Friday night as it drove up
Greystoke Avenue in a flurry bright lights. It stopped outside the shops to be met by crowds of families and even fireworks. Not only does the Southmead Carol Bus appeal raise much needed money for local projects - this year the proceeds are going to the NSPCC and Sports in Southmead for Kids- but the Southmead Carol Bus embodies the spirit of Christmas. It brings light and carols (and snow, if you don't look too closely) to old and young alike. Children and families were able to follow the procession and meet Father Christmas when the bus stopped, and those who found it harder to leave their house were able to enjoy the bus's carols from their windows.

Uniting people, reaching out to old and young, families and the lonely, lightening up darkness, this is surely what Christmas is all about. It is heartening to see the Southmead Carol Bus raising money for such good causes in a really traditional way, and at the same time bringing the real values of Christmas alive, which can be shared everyone, regardless of race, religion or age.

If you want to donate to the 2007 Carol Bus appeal, go to or visit Cliff's Florists on
Greystoke Avenue in Southmead for more information.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Well Done Ray! (now get in that limelight...)

Yesterday, Ray Hulpert (better known to some of you as the Vice-Chair of Upper Horfield Community Trust, member of Eden Grove Methodist Church, and general all-round local dynamo) received his MBE from Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace for services to the community.Spot the star of the day... ( Hint: he's hidden himself at the back...)

It is both heartening and humbling to see a man like Ray, who has devoted his life to serving his community, without fuss, and without fanfare, receive the honours he deserves. To be absolutely honest, people like Ray put politicians to shame. One of the odd and unedifying things about political work, is that you are expected to trumpet your achievements all over the election literature you put through peoples' doors. And there's usually a press release... If Ray, and others like him, had press released everyone one of his achievements, and put it on literature through our doors, I don't think the Evening Post would have room for much else, and we'd wade through six feet of paper every morning to open our doors.

I took Ray to tea at the House of Lords, with a lady I used to work with, Baroness Perry of Southwark. It was a lovely way to end the day. At the end, we all lined up for a photo outside the House of Lords. (Photo above.) It was only when I got home and uploaded my photos that I realised - Ray had managed to put himself at the back again... (second on the right.) in the photo to celebrate his own MBE!

Ray, you are a lesson and an inspiration to us all.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Boxing Brilliance

I was one of the tens of thousands of us who stayed up late on Saturday night to watch Ricky Hatton do our country proud in Las Vegas, against the world's pound-for-pound best boxer, Floyd Mayweather.

Hatton was the epitome of bravery and extraordinary good humour in the face of defeat. It may be a very British trait to lose at the top of the sporting league, but it is also very British to be gracious and inspirational in the face of that defeat.

Forget hours of dull theoretical lessons on the values of citizenship and Britishness, Hatton's display of hard work, discipline, courage and grace in the face of defeat is something we should be showing in citizenship lessons up and down the country.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Special Educational Needs revolution...

On Thursday the cabinet will debate the reorganisation of special educational needs provision in Bristol. Reorganisation of Bristol's SEN provision is long over due. Parents of children with SEN in Bristol have one of the highest appeal rates against the local authority's placement of their child in the country.

Some of you may remember that I organised a petition to stop cuts in special schools, back in January '07. (Note to the ever-imaginative Bristol Blogger : comedy pictures of us campaigning in the rain, which has caption-competition potential, SOMEWHERE on this blog!)

The petition was successful and we got over 700 signatures. Now the council claims that the reorganisations will not amount to cuts in special school places, even though they are closing down the smart, and newly refurbished Kingsdon Manor school, a residential school for children with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties. ( BESD.)

The Council, in short, says that there are too many residential BESD places in Bristol, and not enough day places, especially in the North of the city. Their solution? To close down Kingsdon Manor, which, they say, is operating with lots of surplus places, decant the pupils who need residential BESD into nearby Notton House, which provides for the same group, and pump the money into Florence Brown School, which ( are you still following?) will be re designated for pupils with BESD. That's the short version. For the long version, have a look at the council papers going to cabinet on Thursday.

On the face of it, these seem like very reasonable plans. My concerns are that despite council reassurances, these will in fact amount to cuts.

And there are real grounds for concern. Under this Government there has been a push to close down special schools and to stop giving children with SEN statements. We have lost around 9000 special school places nationally since Labour came into power in 1997, and the number of children even being given an assessment for a statement of SEN has plummeted by a third.

A child cannot get into a special school without a statement, and most importantly, statements provide a vital legal safeguard to the kind of care they are entitled to at school. In Bristol, the number of children for whom the authority has maintained a statement has dropped since 1997 by around 28%. The total number of children with statements in Bristol has fallen by over 20% in five years.

So when council cabinet looks at these plans, I have urged them to:

- Ensure that reorganisation of special school places does not mean cuts

- Ensure that reduced statementing is not used as a way to strangulate a special school to the point of closure.

- Ensure that we keep flexibility for future requirements for SEN and that Bristol City Council does not permanently jettison sites and resources (like the superb and recently re-furbished Kingsdon Manor site) it will later need.

- Protects those involved: to ensure that any reorganisation is not rushed through, and that all children involved have sufficient time to be reassessed and given appropriate new placements if new placements are decided upon.

I will keep you posted on progress....