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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...