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24 April 2007

Children's Playground - A Triumph of Civic Responsibility

The other day I commented on an attempt by a local businessman to purchase a right of way for an access road to his proposed housing development, which would result in the loss of up to 15% of the playing field area. The playing field committe were in favour of accepting an offer of more than £70,000.

Under the constitution of this registered charity it would require a 51% majority of residents attending a public meeting to approve such a deal.

Yesterday evening I attended the public meeting called to discuss the matter, and I was astonished to find the Village Hall bursting at the seams - standing room only, with some people standing outside listening through the side doors that had had to be opened. There were in excess of 300 people, ages ranging from eight to eighty.

In spite of feelings running high the debate was orderly, polite, and with plenty of good humour. One young lad (must have been around 10 or 11 years old) stood up and said his piece, saying that if they were going to finish up kicking a ball about near an access road and a housing development, balls might get kicked over the fence, damage cars etc., and it they went round to ask for their ball back "...they might - well - er - get killed or something!" This produced a good laugh and a round of applause.

I pointed out that up and down this country we have been selling off bits of playground and sports fields for housing development for the past couple of decades, and it was about time it stopped and we got a grip on our priorities: which is the most important - another batch of expensive houses that we don't need, or space for our children and grandchildren to play in. Regarding the playing field finances (often desperate) I said I was prepared to declare in front of the assembled public that I would be more than happy to contribute the huge sum of £1 per month by Direct Debit. I chose this ridiculous figure to demonstrate that if all these people who had filled the village hall did exactly the same it would provide an additional income of £3,600 p.a. This would more than cover the biggest annual outlay, i.e., the public liability insurance premium (nearly £2,000 p.a.)

When it came to the vote we were hugely amused to find that the committee had not printed enough ballot papers to go round. Since it had been clear which way the wind was blowing several of us suggested that we conduct the vote by a show of hands. This was agreed, and to make it even more significant, it was suggested the Chairman should frame the question in this way: Who is in favour of accepting an offer of £70,000? He did, and about four hands went up! Then he asked for the NO vote and a sea of hands shot up. Never mind a majority of 51%. This was a majority of 99%!

During the Annual General Meeting that immediately followed on, the Committee Chairman (a personal friend of the controversial businessman - but let's not dwell on that!) was (politely) given his marching orders. A new Chairman was elected, also a new Secretary and a new Treasurer.

There were over one hundred written pledges of regular donations to the playing field.

This was local democracy at its best in action. I was proud to be part of it, and it restored my faith in civic responsibility.

21 April 2007

Don't mess with our Children's Playing Field

My village has a children's playing field. A local businessman who is used to getting his own way by flashing wads of cash around is trying to get hold of a chunk of the playing field to make an access for some houses he wants to build.

He's waved a large amount of cash in front of the playing field committee and they've gone all starry eyed at the prospect of having badly needed money in the bank with which to maintain a smaller playing field.

I think what we have to consider is which is the more important: a grassy space for our children and grandchildren to run around in, enjoying the swings and slides, etc., or a bunch of expensive houses that the village doesn't need.

Up and down the UK in the past couple of decades we have been merrily selling off sports facilities and playing fields for housing development, whilst at the same time belly-aching about kids having nothing to do hanging around on our streets.

It's about time it stopped, and here is as good a place as any to make a stand. OK, so the income and expenditure on this field is running too close for comfort, but that is not a reason to sell off a chunk of it. Someone else could come along in a couple of years waving more money around for another bit of land. Where is the logic in accumulating more money in order to maintain a disappearing asset?

I'd be prepared to commit myself to £1 per month going into the committee's bank account. At this point, dear reader, you are probably saying "He's a generous bastard! Only £1 per month?" But that's my point - it's so little that anyone could do it, and all it would take would be a couple of hundred people making the same commitment (give up a few bags of crisps or the odd newspaper each month) and there would be a guaranteed income increase of £2,400 per year (which, as it happens, would pay for the public liability insurance premium - the biggest chunk out of the committee's budget).

There's a public meeting next week to discuss the proposed sell-off. Apparently it can't be done without 51% of those attending the meeting voting in favour of it. I shall be casting a NO vote. Developments will be reported.

17 April 2007

200 million Guns!

The tragedy of the Virginia Tech campus shootings (over 30 killed) highlights the nonsensical approach to gun laws in the USA. The right to bear arms is so deeply ingrained in the American consciousness that every time some lunatic goes on a shooting spree the result is always the same: "How tragic. Something must be done." Then nothing is done.

There are, apparently, about two hundred million privately-owned guns in the USA. Guns and ammunition are easy to come by, with a minimum of checks made on the purchaser's credentials.

The National Rifle Association seems to have a stranglehold on politicians; speak out against the gun culture and you lose votes. Charlton Heston (President of the NRA 1998-2003) told the 2000 NRA Convention that they could take his gun "from his cold dead hands". Idiot!

I am tempted to offer to eat my computer if any new meaningful gun control laws come out of the Virginia tragedy.

15 April 2007

Where have I heard that before?

WASHINGTON, April 13 — Senator John McCain said that the buildup of American forces in Iraq represented the only viable option to avoid failure in Iraq and that he had yet to identify an effective fallback if the current strategy failed. (New York Times)

Oh yes - I recall that this was the only viable option in Vietnam, another unwinnable conflict initiated by the USA with (albeit covert) British support. British Government political support, and practical under-cover assistance, for the hell unleashed in Vietnam back in the 1960s was kept a closely guarded secret from Parliament and the British people until recently.

In the case of Iraq our support for the US President has been out in the open. I wonder if that is a kind of progress?!

Whilst the Prime Minister and fellow apologists trumpet the downfall of a tyrannical dictator it is necessary to remind ourselves that during the past half century or more the British Government has aided and abetted in both the installation and support of many tyrannical dictators around the world in the course of protecting so-called British strategic and business interests.

Iraq is just the latest in a long line of dubious and/or illegal actions by the American and British governments. As with many other cases, we have been instrumental first in setting up the tyrant, then bringing him down when he is no longer seen to be serving our interests.

All we have achieved in Iraq is an escalating bloody civil war with very blurred lines, involving outside terrorists taking the opportunity of attacking US and British forces, and Iraqi religious groups attacking each other in the name of two different versions of Islam. (Is Islam a religion for people with a Sunni disposition or is it just a load of Shiite?)

Well done guys! Now, get the hell out of there.

05 April 2007

Everything in Moderation

"Spammers" are everywhere. If they don't get into your e-mail system they are invading your Website or Blog.

I've had several spam hits on this Blog site masquerading as comments. They usually say something like You've got a great site here and then provide a link to some commercial site or a site of dubious nature.

This is why I have now enabled "Moderated Comments". Please understand that I am not seeking to change what any genuine contributor is saying. All that happens is that any comment posted on this site is sent to my e-mail address before it appears on the Blog. If I can see the comment is spam I delete it. Any other genuine comment gets my approval for posting and it appears on the Blog.