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Monday, 2 December 2013

Christmas Starts Here! Brailsfords light up Brentry

Fireworks go up, as the lights come on
 It's become more traditional than opening your advent calendar; Every year Lee and Paul, the now notorious Brailsford Brothers, light up Christmas for Brentry and Beyond.

Two years ago, they starred in a Channel 4 documentary on Britain's greatest Christmas Lights, and you can read about them this year in our very own Bristol Post.
every year, the Brailsford Bro's add more and more lights!

Very proud. My first Christmas Present. I'm going to wear it in the House of Commons. Shhh...
 I always tell the story of how I  came across Lee in his garage, fiddling around with wires and large snowmen one boiling hot September afternoon, some years ago now, already preparing for Christmas. 

Now the Brailsford Brothers hope to smash the £20,000 mark in raising money for Wallace and Gromit's Grand Appeal.
Gromit's had a big year, this year. But still found time to support @brailsfordxmas

Each year, the spectacle gets bigger and better -this year it was almost hard to get to see the house for the crowds, and as the count-down went off, the fireworks went up. Amazing!  We are also now lucky to have some really brilliant local talent performing to get us all in the festive mood.

This year was a bit special for me- as Lee and Paul gave me my first Christmas present - my very own Brailsford Lights hoodie which I will wear with pride! I've been dared to wear it in the Chamber at the House of Commons. So shhh... watch this space... and don't tell the Speaker...


If you missed the lights - turn-on, don't worry! You can enjoy the festivities again on Christmas Eve, and the lights are on every day until January 3rd between 5-10pm.

You can also donate online at www.brailsfordlights.co.uk 

Or by texting rixy88 and £1, £5 or £10 to 70070.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Boxing Clever for Mental Health and Life Chances With Living Legends

In the presence of Legends! Bristol's Chris Sanigar and Frank Bruno
 It is very seldom you get to meet two boxing legends within two days.
I remember watching the Bruno vs. Tyson fight, and I remember, still with devastation and dread, the Michael Watson fight, that changed the way boxing safety was policed for ever.

Since then, both these living legends have soldiered on through very tough times. Frank's mental health issues were made very public, and doctors said that Michael Watson would never walk or talk again.

But both men are not only walking and talking, they are taking up the fight to help others through the sport they love. Frank Bruno is supporting Empire Boxing Club's new scheme, helping people with mental health, through boxing, in conjunction with the mental health services. I went to a session and saw how uniquely effective boxing can be. 

The amazing Michael Watson: 2nd row, third from the left
Michael Watson was in Parliament to launch "Fight for Change" - a Lambeth based charity, helping young people find a career and a future for themselves through boxing. As professional fighter, Jevon Young said,  "Boxing saved my life. I probably wouldn't be here now if it wasn't for boxing".

The All Party Group on Boxing , of which I am chair, is working on a report to shine light on all these remarkable schemes. I have never, ever seen anything tackle those toughest social challenges like boxing. We waste so much money on interventions to the 'hard to reach' which don't work. For so many, only boxing has the reach, and for so many, it's definitely the right hook.

Find out more:  www.fight4change.org.uk/

Or about Empire Boxing Club  HERE

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Happy Halloween from The Giant Goram!

Happy Halloween and thank you to Dawn, Kim and all at The Giant Goram Pub, Lawrence Weston, for making me so wickedly welcome!

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Bristol deserves better than this TRASH - we deserve a stadium


www.bristolsnottrash.bristolpetitions.com 

For too long, Bristol has been held back either by Council House inadequacy, or squabbles between local authorities, or else by minority groups holding up or stopping major projects that the city badly needs.  The saga over Bristol City's new stadium is a case in point.

Now, a potentially very exciting plan to house Bristol Rovers in a brand new stadium, with a large conference facility, good travel access, in conjunction with UWE, which has  knock-on effect to enable more affordable housing to be built, is being held up by another minority group.

The unfortunately named 'TRASH' group have set themselves up as a company to lodge a judicial review against the decision, which would see a Sainsburys, and other facilities built on the Memorial Ground. This project funds the brand new stadium in South Glos.

The frustration is that this not only flies in the face of the will of the City, and what is good for the region, but TRASH are fanning fears amongst local traders about what the new development will actually mean.

I am as great a supporter as any of local independent traders, and I am concerned about how TRASH are spinning their case.

No where do TRASH mention that the supermarket development will bring:

  • 400 extra car-parking spaces to the area, for people to use as they go to local independent shops
  • A 'Memorial Park' and green-space to celebrate the famous Memorial Gates
  • A community centre for community use and activity
  • Affordable housing which is so badly needed for the area
  • The potential for local businesses to have free advertising space, targeting anyone using the Sainsbury's. 
No, they present it as an Armageddon, using snippets of reports, not the entirety, to make a misleading and partisan point. 
In areas like Shirehampton, local traders are crying out for a major supermarket to bring people to the area, which will increase their trade. Other supermarkets have not killed Gloucester Road Traders, and it is those other supmermarkets which stand so much to lose from a new Sainsburys. Let alone the fact that the vast majority of shops at the northern end of Gloucester Road are services like cafes, solicitors etc which are not in competition with a supermarket and would benefit from higher footfall. The TRASH campaign also mysteriously ignores the fact that the limiting factor for more people using Gloucester Road for shopping is, yes,  the appalling lack of parking. 400 extra spaces will only help this.

But most galling of all, is that this misleading minority campaign is costing the tax-payer dear, for the delay that they are imposing, as well as Bristol Rovers, and that yet again, and that an exciting future for Bristol is being strangled by a minority group.

On Saturday, I went to the Rovers game at home against  Chesterfield to let people know about the petition to give voice against what TRASH are doing.  If you are frustrated that Bristol is yet again being held ransom, and that it's you and me paying for it,
sign:

www.bristolsnottrash.bristolpetitions.com 

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Pretty Nostalgic at Kings Weston House


Jane Austen dancing. Expected to see a BBC camera crew somewhere.
Norman Routledge and his team have done so much to resurrect our Kings Weston House - it was very good to see it put to such good use in a display of designer, 'Pretty Nostalgic' 's work, and other arts, crafts and cultural stalls.

Pretty Nostalgic were very instrumental in the decorating of Kings Weston House, advising and providing some of the beautiful wall-paper and other features seen in the house.

It was a fantastic day, with crowds of visitors and an array of artistic, sustainable living stalls and activities available. For Christmas purchases, look no further than Pretty Nostalgic, and for a fine day out, no further than our own Kings Weston House!
What better wedding venue than Kings Weston House?!

Sunday, 13 October 2013

It's Class War on our trains! Standard vs First ...


Last week, I travelled some distance across the country, costing me a grand total of £82 ( no, none of that was paid by you, the tax-payer!) to give a speech.  (Many people actually get paid for giving speeches. I've obviously got something badly wrong.)  Anyway, I paid quite a hefty fare for my train journey only to find, joy of joys,  that standard class was absolutely chokka. People were slotting themselves into luggage-rack gaps, had filled the buffet car and some had taken up camp in the carriage corridors themselves. Happy days.

It was then I had a brainwave. Surely the little table, just past the Class-Barrier of the buffet-car, on which free copies of The Times are often arrayed for First Class customers wouldn't be actually First Class?

I squeezed down the train, past the buffet, to confirm my suspicions. The carpet didn't actually begin until after the little table-bit at the end of the carriage. What's more, I reasoned, one pays for a First Class seat, surely? Throwing caution (and images of 'MP travels in First Class with Standard-Class Ticket' headlines) to the winds, I perched myself on said little table, tucked my feet in, and muttered to myself about how much I'd just paid for this dubious comfort.
Grrrrr. Very annoying. Especially when you've been sitting in a packed Standard Class luggage rack.

What made things more galling is that the First Class carriages were virtually empty. More muttering. After some considerable amount of time squished up on a small table, this is why I have quite a bit of sympathy for calls to re-think the Standard:First Class ratio on trains.

You can read a bit more about it here:

Friday, 4 October 2013

Help Rebuild Lawrence Weston Football Club's Clubhouse!

Only red-tape is  stopping this lot rebuilding their club-house...
"They get burnt down, but they get up again..."  But they are getting very fed up with it. And with good cause. Their club's been burnt down twice in nine years.
Each time they've had to rebuild it, but this time, it turns out the Council under-insured the property and they can't get the club-house they need rebuilt.
Another sting in the tail is that because they used their initiative and put up a temporary club, (portacabins) which has now been there for several years, the Council is under less pressure to cut through the red tape to rebuild their club for them. 

And if that wasn't enough, the final sting is that there is more than enough expertise, willingness and resource for the club members to rebuild their club themselves, at a fraction of the cost it would take through all the council-methods.  It's red-tape madness at its worst. True, some council officers have been doing their best to help - but that's been some years now and to be honest, it's just madness that they haven't been able to build their club house. 

This is a superb club, which is about so much more than just football - it is a hub of the community, full of great people, bringing everyone together.  Please sign our petition  to , er, focus minds, in the Council for sorting this disgrace out.  This year, it's the club's 20th Anniversary. Read more about it in The Post  What better way to celebrate 20 years than have the Council cut through it's lunatic red-tape, and help this club get their club-house rebuilt.

Never let it be said that the club is not hugely hospitable! Even to MPs.


Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Team outing - the Return to Raj Pavillions



If Masood (far left) likes a curry, it's definitely good...
I blogged many moons back about the glory of the curries at Raj Pavillions in Horfield ( just down from the Inn on the Green ) - and guess what, nothing's changed. So for a bit of a staff outing, we all went to the Raj Pavillions, where I regailed my long-suffering team with tales of how good the food was.

Masood is a bit of curry connoisseur, and is often known to bring in his own tempting culinary concoctions into the office where we all drool and regret the Tesco sandwiches we've brought in. To be honest, I was a bit worried about brining Masood out for a curry. His was a high standard to live up to...

But sure enough, the team at Raj Pavillions laid on a spread which amazed us all. It's what a real curry ought to be. Hot, yes. Chillis, yes. Good with beer - Yes. But also packed with layers and layers of delicate, beautiful spices and flavour.  Once again, thanks.

Do you know of a great curry place or restaurant I should visit? Let me know! Leave a comment here...  

Sunday, 29 September 2013

2442 Air Cadets Squadron - the proud Legacy of 'The Few'

Is the blurring anything to do with the toasts with port? Who can say...
When I was very young, I often thought about going into the military. My granddad was a colonel in the Middlesex Regiment and my mum had been brought up in a military family - staying at boarding school, going back to various different homes, Cyprus, Germany, as her mum and dad were posted around the world.

I still have a copy of a photo, signed by Montgomery, of my granddad receiving the Military Cross for bravery, from him; so in some ways, the values of military service were still around in my family as I was growing up even though my grandfather died when I was six. 

However, I never did go into the Services, but now the British Military Tournament has been resurrected I take my family every year, and my admiration for our armed forces is tremendous.

Cadets drill in the co-op carpark...
I may not have received a medal for outstanding bravery over the weekend - but I was still very proud to receive my certificate for being made Honorary President of Westbury-Trym's superb 2442 Air  Cadets Squadron  at their Annual Dinner in Westbury Village Hall. The Cadets did themselves proud, especially with some beautiful readings and poems.

My grandfather, Colonel Rex Waller, receiving a medal for bravery from Field Marshall Montgomery
Whenever I see the Cadets in action I am impressed by their discipline and maturity. The cadets may hail from all sorts of different backgrounds, but they are all absolutely united in their identity as cadets. I sometimes feel very old as I look on the discipline, and ethos of duty and service that these young men and women encompass, and am conscious of being grateful that our next generation hold such values so proudly. I hope that values like duty, service, and bravery will not be seen as 'old fashioned values' - but values of today, alive and vibrant in young people like our superb 2442 Squadron Air Cadets.

Henna-bury Fun Day! (groan)

Henna-bury. Geddit, geddit!  ahem. I'll get my coat.
Amongst many of the highlights at Henbury Funday on Saturday was Pria's (sorry Pria, I have a feeling I've spelt your name wrong) free Henna Tattoos. She's training to do this professionally and she's already a master.

The community of Henbury and Brentry are indefatigable when it comes to putting on events to keep the community together, and it really makes all the difference. I was honoured to open the event and, for once, speechless as I was given flowers to say thank you for work that I've done. All I can say is that whatever I do is a fraction of what people like Rose, Cynthia, Carol and many, many others ( you all know who you are!) do day in, day out, with out fanfare or recognition to make our community a better place. Thank YOU!

Save Southmead not-just-for Youth Club !

May the Force Be with Southmead Youth Club!

Not just for the kids! Older residents, Marion and Joyce have many a story to tell about the club
Last night I was lucky enough to go along to the Save Southmead Youth Club Campaign's talent show. Thanks to Southmead Legend, BS10's very own, original Darth Vader Dave Prowse 's enormously generous support and help, the club is embarking on a 'May the Force be With You" theme for its fundraising.

The plan is to succeed in Community Asset Transfer, to enable the community to run the club. There is a lot of money needed, and still a lot of work to do, but with the support from Southmead's stalwart community, and the Southmead Development Trust , there is real hope we can make it.

The club is a vital hub for the young people in the area , but it's not just the youngsters who care about keeping the club open and thriving. Residents Marion and (the notorious!) Joyce told me many a story of the early days of the club, and how Southmead has changed over the years. It's a vital community resource. With the help of Darth Vader and others, hopefully the force really can be with us.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Avon Talking Magazines for the Blind - 40th Anniversary!

Drinking tea with Cynthia for a good cause. Yes, tough, I know

The Avon Talking Magazine for the Blind  is one of those unsung, but exceptional charities that makes such a difference to so many peoples' lives on a daily basis.

Cynthia Reynolds has for many years not had to press-gang me into coming to fund raising events - often wonderful teas like this one, to support an incredibly valuable cause.



signing the 'Avon Talking Magazine Tablecloth' (nicely posed)
This year they held a very special event to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the organisation.
Signing the Avon Talking Magazine Tablecloth - in reality

Services like this can make all the difference to those with limited sight and blindness, in a world that can otherwise seem very hostile and self-referential and sufficient.

Star-studded guest list - Our Lord Mayor & Cllr Chris Windows
The hall was packed and we were lucky to welcome the Lord Mayor and other celebs such as the notorious ( in a good way) Cllr. Chris Windows from Henbury, over some excellent cake, and a cup of tea - served impeccably by the superb team from Avon Talking Books for the Blind. 

I got to sign a magnificent table-cloth, with embroidered signatures from many supporters over the years, all beautifully done by Cynthia Reynolds.

Thank you to Cynthia and the whole team not only for a beautiful tea, but for all the extraordinary work you do year in, year out, to change people's worlds. Inspiration.  

Kings Weston House - Open Doors and resurrection

Before..(skanky with scaffold).. After (beautiful honey-gold walls glint..)
Open Doors Bristol is a very special day, and it's very hard to feel like you've made the most of it.

This year, I decided to do a few things 'well', and a highlight was Kings Weston House, so beautifully restored by Norman Routledge and his team - especially Kings Weston Action Group and the incredible David Martyn.

Who said Graffiti was 'new' ? this is (genuinely, I'm told)from 1789. Krazye.
As you can see, Norman has cleaned the house off to gleam in its former glory. It makes such a huge difference and it is striking how the 'scraping off' of recent history ( er, grime ) has given new life to the real, old , period history that has been stifled underneath it for all these years. That's what I love about what  Norman is doing for Kings Weston House. He understands that History is a living thing, not a fossil, and has struck the balance perfectly between respecting the core elements of what makes our past, and preserving them as key-stones of our future - and understanding how history is evolution itself, and that preserving things as you find them in aspic is nothing like retaining the historical character of a place that has been graffiti'd on since the 1700s... 

That's a VIEW. Wales and all that lies before it, from Kings Weston House Roof

Obviously best tea-view of all time
I'm hoping that English Heritage recognise the excellent work Norman and his team are doing on our beloved and historical landmark, and realise if it was not for Norman and people like him, so many of our beautiful historic buildings would have fallen into disrepair beyond redemption and been destroyed.

In some ways, I'm a really sadly typical Conservative - I love old things, and often question the unthinking assumption of 'progress' ( See my robust views earlier in this blog on how we have moved backwards in transport in this city, whilst wittering on about modernisation and progress!)  - but I also very much believe that we are living in 'History' and that todays actions are as important and as relevant as those of the past. In all the good work that English Heritiage does in helping people like Norman resurrect our building and our heritage, I hope they never make 'the best' the enemy of 'the good' - which is simply seeing our old, historic buildings thrive and take on a new role, personality and character in a new setting and a new era. After-all, changes and evolution like that are what make history. History hasn't ended. We're inescapably in it, every passing day and 'Open Doors'.

Friday, 13 September 2013

The Chilli Day of Reckoning

The Chilli day of reckoning had arrived, and fortuitously ( or not, as it turned out) it was Friday 13th. September 20..13.  Yes, it was a bad plan from the start.

 Jay, from the Clifton Chilli Club turned up to BBC Radio Bristol to present Steve Lefevre and myself with a beautiful second-breakfast plate of chillies which we were to consume, live , on air.

Second breakfast. After a strategic large bowel of milky semolina
Jay is a nutter. He showed us a mean red looking ******* of a chilli, called the Trinidad Scorpion, hottest chilli known to man ( I think?). 1.5 million-2million scovilles. It's top right hand corner, dark red, and you can't quite see that it has a genuine sharp 'tail' on the end.
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, yes?...
 Jay, it turns out, had eaten FOUR of these on Saturday and laughed in the face of the Million Scoville Dorset Naga (nuzzling next to the Scorpion on the left, orange) that I had pledged to put through my digestive system in my ridiculous bid to join the 'Million Scoville Club'*


There was a bit of civilised conversation between John Darvall and Jay  and his wife Alice about the flavour and economy of chillis, and suchlike ( the West is an unlikely hub for chilli-gormets and gor-madmen, as it turns out, and the Clifton Chilli Club is a red-hot organisation of which Bristol should be proud). Then there was a break for Bob Marley's One Love, with the ironic (in the circumstances) chorus line "Feel Alright", and Steve LeFevre and I were shoved on air.

It started off quite gormet and posh, talking of 'earthy flavours', with a bit of chilli tasting, then we got to the business. Steve and I had started off competitive but got increasingly more chivalrous as the extent of the pain we were about to put ourselves through became apparent.

In the end, we jointly did the 1 Million Scoville Dorset Naga, and you can hear our restrained reaction, live, on Radio Bristol

..Yes!     -With fellow (also stronger) victor, Steve Lefevre
It was quite an experience. The eating alone was painful enough, then comes the shakes, the sweating, the running eyes and nose ( not great live on air) , and a strange euphoric high breaking through all that discomfort like a sunrise through rainclouds and other poetic stuff like that. That's why Chillies are so addictive; however painful they are, they are strangely exhilarating and make you feel most definitely 'alive'.  I'm very grateful to Radio Bristol for letting us out of the studio shortly after the chilli had gone down however.

The rest of the day was... interesting. My staff, constituents, and constituency businesses ( yes, you know who you are ) were very tolerant of periods of distracted pain, the odd sudden absence and a very contorted speech at the end of the evening. However, I can completely recommend pushing yourself to your capsicum limits ( er, safely!) and eating more chillis. The proven health benefits are numerous, and however much it hurts even if you do it stupidly like this radio presenter and politican, it does make you feel invigorated, purged of any lingering lurgey and re-energised. As my old swimming coach used to say, 'no pain, no gain'.   I'm not sure a Dorset Naga is always necessary, but a nice safe bit of chilli on your meal is proven to do nothing but good. Enjoy!

* Scoville is the unit of heat of a chilli. Tabasco sauce is about 5,000 scovilles. Some zeros short of the 1,000000 I was about to attempt. Just saying.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Hot Weekend with a Chilli Challenge!

Trepidation and milk at The Mouse Pub's infamous chilli challenge

So it seems  I've accepted the challenge from BBC Radio Bristol's Steve LeFevre to join the 'Million Scoville Club', for (ominously) Friday 13th next week, Live, On Air. [LINK TO RADIO: at 2h 40]

For those sensible enough not to spend their time testing their taste-buds and sanity with chillies with the word 'scorpion' in their name, the Scoville is the measure of hotness of a chilli. As we found out  from expert Nick ( also known as Dr. Burnorium, of the Hotsauce Emporium) on Radio Bristol this morning, Tabasco sauce is around 5,000 Scovilles, which gives you an idea of how hot a Million Scoville beastie is.

Last year, I was unwise enough to compete in The Mouse Pub's annual Chilli Eating Contest. Silly me, I thought it might have been nice bowels of chilli-con-carne, but no. It was raw chillis. We were handed nice raw chillis, getting increasingly hotter and hotter, to eat whole. No drink , water or beer, allowed - just big cartons of milk in the middle of the table. When you grabbed in anguish for the milk to sooth the inferno in your mouth and stomach, that is you out.

Suddenly the fun was wearing thin
I was quite proud to come joint fourth, with the only other lady taking part ( out of 19 I think), jointly bowing out just before a Habenaro (Orange, I think), in fear of the Scotch Bonnet...

My recollections of the evening are a bit hazy as the chilli has an extraordinary effect - all the contestents got increasingly jittery and hyper, and , yes, 'high'. And my memory isn't that clear...

What I do remember is a night of exceptional pain as the inevitabilities of digestion took their course, and swearing I would never do anything so stupid ever again.

But somehow, the good people at Radio Bristol have turned all that around. Steve LeFevre is himself a member of the 'Million Scoville Club' and it just seemed wrong to let that go without attempting to join him. All this was to celebrate Bristol's Chilli Festival this weekend.

Mad, maybe. But some say the chilli has real health benefits and, scientific or not, last year's chilli extravaganza certainly saw off a rather stubborn chest-infectiony-thing that I'd had hanging around too long...       But, political pundits, stand-by. Come next Friday's 'Million Scoville' test with Steve LeFevre, it might be by-election time...

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

What does denial look like?

Anger and smugness. Sadly, not really a very edifying parliamentary picture in reaction to failed patient safety issues from the Shadow Secretary of State for Health and a Shadow Health Minister.

I never thought I was political when I was younger – but it turned out, I was, since certain things made me promise to myself I would try to do something about them, if ever I had the chance.

One of these was what I saw happening to my father’s role as a Bristol NHS surgeon, and that of his colleagues.That's part of the reason you may have heard me be so vocal over recent months about how we have let down patients, and doctors who really want to care for them, in our NHS over the last decade .

 I remember the period when the stress of my father's work, and that of his colleagues became much worse in the early 2000s. My dad would come home late, desperately frustrated. New rafts of dominant managers were seizing control over how doctors should prioritise their patients’ care.

 I would listen to my dad’s desperation as he told how he was ordered not to operate on an urgent patient - because there was another less urgent patient about to exceed government enforced waiting times. That patient had to come first. He tried speaking out, and began finding ways of ensuring urgent patients got priority. But I was appalled that he had to break the ‘rules’ to care for patients.

I also remember a colleague of my dad’s complaining that in a Bristol hospital, one of the alphabetically arranged shelves of historic X-Rays had been jammed for some time , and were inaccessible to the doctors who needed them. The patient of course, knew nothing about this.
Talking health with my Dad. I've grown up hearing what it's like at the front line of the NHS

This same doctor also noticed that essential patients’ notes were often unavailable. His complaints led nowhere so he went to the Medical Records room. He found patient’s notes piled high on the floor in corridors between the overloaded shelves, with little hope of finding anyone’s notes. He took photographs and complained to management. When ignored, he threatened to expose the shambles. The result? he had to go off work for six months.

 It was a sadly familiar story for anyone who tried to speak out.

Once, after a personal medical consultation, the doctor, (who knew I was a candidate for the General Election), made a striking appeal. ‘Please help us’, he said; ‘we can’t treat our patients any more and we are silenced if we speak out’. 

The hospital horrors that are tragically hitting our headlines had been silenced until now, by a regime that insisted that the NHS must be portrayed as perfect at any cost. 

That regime is now over, and the truth can emerge. Many have waited years to speak out. As a doctor’s daughter, I know just how committed most of our NHS frontline staff are, and how much NHS care is excellent.

We owe it to them, but primarily to patients, to be honest about failings of the past and hold those responsible at the top to account. We must do a deep clean of our NHS system, and rebuild it with good managers, and professionals re-empowered to do the job they went into the NHS to do:
Not to polish the reputation of an institution for the pleasure of politicians, but to care for patients.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

European Austerity... alive and bubbly?

Photo taken at around 11am in Brussels EU Parliament! Good to see Austerity alive and bubbly...

I was rootling through my blackberry photos and found this one - taken on a trip I made to Brussels to discuss our 'Fresh Start Project' reforms for Europe with MEPs and others.  It was taken at around 11am, and it was one of those pictures which for me spoke a thousand words.

If I thought Westminster was a bubble, the EU Parliament was even more of a bubble - a bubble of luxury and optimism floating in a deeply troubled , increasingly divided Europe. The rise of parties such as 'Alternative for Deutschland' show that it's not only the British people who are getting intolerant of out-of-touch EU Elite - its The People from across Europe who do not feel represented by a blindly optimistic, extraordinarily out-of-touch EU Political Class.

The truth is that whether we are in or out of Europe, unfortunately, Britain's interests are inextricably linked to the success or otherwise of the continent. If the European Ship Sinks, we sink with it, whether we're on board, or whether we've manned the life-boat to get away - we'll still be sucked down to a greater or lesser extent with the economic whirlpool the downfall of Europe will create - so it is entirely within our interests to try to get Europe to see sense, become more competitive, let go of its deeply communist instincts, and , to be frank, Get Real.  That's what the Fresh Start project is designed to do - to create a coalition of parties from EU nations that see that enforcing 'more of the same' is no way to save Europe, but that we should be a unit that is strong through the diversity of its member states, not a disastrously enforced 'one-size-fits-all' super-state.

If we can succeed in that, Europe may stand a chance of flourishing and being the kind of institution that many people voted for, back when we got the chance. The idea of a Union that makes the very most of each of its individual member states, and then is more than the sum of its parts, is not very controversial.

However, if we can't untangle the dysfunctional relationship of Europe, and the EU Elite persist in steering Europe towards disaster, in a rigid blindness of ideology, partly born out of the trauma of recent European War-History, then, in the referendum we've been so long denied, but is now finally happening in 2017, if Conservatives win the election, it makes all the sense in the world to abandon ship and gird ourselves for the whirlpool when the EU ship finally sinks... 

Sunday, 4 August 2013

LDubstock - Woodstock, eat yer heart out


Despite quite torrential rain, LDubstock was a raging success - thank you so much to all the organisers for a really great evening! The music was superb, the wraps at the Chilli Van enormous, and the company superlative. Such as that below with our new(ish) Councillor Jason Budd, the infamous ( in a good way) Mark Pepper and Norman Routledge, who we have to thank for the glory of Kings Weston House.
Sheltering from the storm at LDubStock with beers and friends!
Policies that emerged from political discussions in the food queue include instituting a King ( or Queen) of Bristol ( there were several nominations for this post) and re-building the Bristol Wall.  I won't blog all of it as I'm sure the politically-correct amongst any readers this blog might attract may not be amused, but suffice to say it was brilliant to see so many friends - and make new ones - all in one place.
I was speaking to our local councillor, Wayne Harvey who was there with his brother Darren, and he told me he had met up with people he'd not seen for 15 years.  That's why communities that are built up around places like Lawrence Weston Football Club are so important - they bring people together.

Thanks again to all the organisers for a really wonderful afternoon and evening - now we need to get your club house rebuilt...



Saturday, 3 August 2013

The Avon Gorge Ascent - a change from climbing the greasy pole...

Doesn't look too bad! All going to be fine!
Things not feeling so fine now...
This was the easy start-bit. Things got worse!
 It all seemed so far away as to be unreal, when I accepted Climb Bristol's kind invitation to see the glory of the Avon Gorge climbs for myself, by climbing up it.

When it came to it, I wasn't so sure it was such a great plan. Climb Bristol were keen to show me first hand the unique nature of the Avon Gorge cliffs, with its plant life unique to Bristol and its very special climbing features.

As someone not tremendously keen on heights, I had never dreamed of being one of those people you see scaling the Avon Gorge cliffs as you drive past, but I was keen to see what Climb Bristol was talking about.

The day dawned sunny and bright, and I hoped for rain and that it might be delayed for another day. No rain arrived. But everyone from Climb Bristol were incredibly professional, and tolerant of my nerves. They tried telling me about the access issues to the rock face, and the challenges of maintaining the climbing routes, free from shrubs that drown out the rare and unique plants around them, but I was somewhat preoccupied by the thought of what I was about to do, so we cracked on with the climb.

The route I was given was apparently 'severe' (which didn't make me feel much better.) I felt slightly better as they told me how many other grades of slope were above 'severe' - right up to 'extremely severe' which itself has several grades of difficulty. Once I'd started climbing I was surprised how well the climbing shoes gripped, alarmed by how polished some of the rock had become with the frequency of climbers and intrigued by the 'physical chess' nature of the climbing - an almost sudoko-like challenge of where to place hands and feet on limited little cracks and chinks. But once I'd got into my stride a bit more about 3/4 of the way up, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of it, and understood why people get addicted to climbing.

Climb Bristol highlighted how special this climbing area is;  how much work they have done on a voluntary basis to clear it of over-grown shrubbery; the possibilities the area presents if the decent car-parking spaces are returned, and how Bristol should celebrate this superb venue for climbers far more than it does.

When the climb was one, pumped full of adrenalin and endorphines, we walked back down to the car. As I stepped out onto the Portway bus-lane, it struck me that for all the thrill of clinging to a rock-face a long way up, the most dangerous part of the whole episode was probably about to begin- walking the short distance along a brutal road to get to the lay-by where we parked.   There was plenty of room for the shrubs to be cut back and a footpath laid.  That's the kind of danger and risk that should be actively removed, so people can enjoy the beauty, exhilaration and calculated risk of climbing in far more safety. 

Thanks to Climb Bristol for such a great experience

 Thank you Climb Bristol! I hope I can do it again sometime...

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Precursors



In between the endless onslaught of reading worthy and important (and usually badly written) official documents, there's so much more to be read.
This always feels like a July poem; especially after the weather change we've just had, of almost oppressive heat, building into the inevitable downpour.
This poem also reminds me too a bit of the dusty corridors of parliament, where there air is thick with ancient quotes, the over-bearing weight of history, infinite detail and a stifled perspective and anachronism rule - and it is sometimes easy to feel that 'none but insects dare to sing or pirouette.'    At times when the air seems unbearably thick with third-hand breath, it is easy to wish the rain would come to flush it all away- and I think many might suspect that politics can always do with more of those who have the gusto of wind or water-spout...
PRECURSORS 

O that the rain would come— the rain in big battalions— 
Or thunder flush the hedge a more clairvoyant green 
Or wind walk in and whip us and strip us or booming 
Harvest moon transmute this muted scene. 

But all is flat, matt, mute, unlivened, unexpectant, 
And none but insects dare to sing or pirouette; 
That Man is a dancer is an anachronism— 
Who has forgotten his steps or hardly learnt them yet. 

Yet one or two we have known who had the gusto 
Of wind or water-spout, and one or two 
Who carry an emerald lamp behind their faces 
And— during thunder-storms— the light comes shining through. 

LOUIS MACNEICE 

The Henbury Loop Line - it CAN happen!

Isambard gave us the Suspension Bridge - surely we can achieve this?!
Can you imagine Isambard Kingdom Brunel planning to build a railway line from Bristol to London now? Or the Clifton Suspension Bridge?  Local authorities would have to agree, there would be an awful lot of very expensive consultants employed, then everyone would suck their teeth, look concerned ,say they were terribly supportive of the idea but of course, it could never be done, would be far too expensive, may require planning permission etc etc etc blah,  and a million reasons 'why not'
Flapjacks- an essential part of any journey
Everyone ready to board the Henbury Loop Special!
That's what's going on with the far more modest proposal to open up a small stretch of existing freight-train track back up to passengers again, as it used to be. The track between Filton, Henbury and Avonmouth already exists. As part of the 'Bristol Metro' plans, most people with any common sense whatsoever think it would be a good idea to use this existing track for passengers to create a real circle line round the city.

All that is needed now is for the good people at the West of England Partnership to agree and put in a 'Henbury Loop' into their bid for Government funding. Yes, we'd need a bit of double-tracking, and perhaps think about some signaling issues. We might even have to think, wait for it, creatively, about ensuring that freight trains are not held up by passenger trains - but this is far from rocket science and other areas of the country seem less squeamish about building new track than we do about using existing track for passengers as we once used to do.

Stephen Williams MP has been a real supporter of this campaign
SO - to prove it's all very doable, I decided not only to talk about it, but to DO it. With the great help of First Great Western, we chartered a train along the Henbury Loop Line. We only had a limited number of tickets, so huge apologies to all those people I had to disappoint.  But the trip was enormous fun and a great success-  from Temple Meads all the way up to Severn Beach and back again in about an hour. Some people told me they'd driven about an hour from Brentry to even get to Temple Meads...

Sue Flint bought flapjacks which we passed round and I chatted with Cllr Mark Bradshaw, Stephen Williams MP, and other cross-party transport campaigners about how we can make this a reality.

If you haven't already, please sign the petition:  www.henburyloop.bristolpetitions.com and forward to all of your friends!
Isambard Gromit Brunel says YES to the Henbury Loop! Don't you, Gromit..

Monday, 22 July 2013

A magic garden for Brenty's children

With the outstanding garden creator, Mike Follett.
I have bizarrely vivid memories of when I was very little. Colours, shapes and textures all meant a lot - a lot more than they do as a grown-up. So I've always found it little wonder that exposing young children to a variety of inputs like this is vitally important to their learning and development.

The brand new garden at Brentry Children's Centre - now a centre of excellence for early years -  is a little-learner's paradise. It was designed by special early-years garden designer, Mike Follett. Mike has used random objects from the reclamation yard to make a practical, fascinating, varied, suitably 'risky' outdoor learning environment for the children - of all ages, and learning abilities, including those with SEN and many who did not have a garden at home.   I was honoured to open the new garden - and it was particularly gratifying seeing the children rush into their new play space and immediately get busy (and wet) with the gargoyle water-feature. It was a gloriously hot day, perfect to make the most of the garden . I had to tear myself away from the cold drinks, cakes and water-feature - but thanks to all for a lovely afternoon, and congratulations to all involved.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

LifeCycle in Avonmouth

Being put through my paces at LifeCycle on the bike rodeo...

There's a lot of paper work being an MP, and anyone who knows me (especially my long-suffering caseworker) will tell you that I'm none too keen on paperwork.

However, the job does have its significant perks ( and no, I don't mean the type of perks that hit headlines and involve moats).  In the last year I've been caving ( which I never thought I'd do) and abseiling down Avon Gorge. This weekend, I got to do a 'bike rodeo' which was a first, with the superb group,  Life Cycle   who held an event at Avonmouth Community Centre to get local young people on their bikes, swapping bikes, getting their bikes fixed, and generally celebrating the joy and benefits of life on two-wheels.

It was a packed, popular event, and I was told how at least three children had taken their stabilizers off for the first time that day. Well done and thanks to all of those who introduced more kids to life on two wheels. Being on a bike this size reminded me of happy hazy days as a ten year old on my BMX, with home-made ramps in the car-park and playing field and constantly grazed knees...  I think the ten year old me may have put me to shame on the Bike Rodeo too...

Thursday, 18 July 2013

10 Years at The Mouse!

The Mouse Pub is a true local. Just a short way up the hill from my house, and just a short stagger downhill back, The Mouse has been a second sitting-room for me in so many ways, and the welcome and friendship of Elaine and Billy who run it has been an anchor in many a storm! 

Celebrating 10 great years of Elaine and Billy running 'The Mouse' pub in WoT!
I remember when a car alarm went off in the middle of the night- and I found it was mine: A car up the hill had rolled down the hill and smashed up my little Yaris. I was half-a-sleep, in a combination of night-clothes and jumper, and not in the mood at all for such an unpleasant surprise. Elaine and Billy were wonderful.

Many people enjoy the hospitality of The Mouse - and the other weekend we all came together to celebrate 10 great years of Elaine, Billy and Lauren running the pub.

Yes, Elaine may have made me enter the infamous Mouse Chilli Eating Contest  ( joint 4th! C'mon! ) and been responsible for one of the most gastrically painful nights of my life, but I can't thank them enough for the warmth, friendship, hospitality - and of course, beer, they have provided since I have known them. Thank you! Here's to another 10 years!