Friday, 23 December 2011

Wake me when it's over, but record the good bits for me.

Well, the good things thus far about the festive season are these:
  1. The kids and I can stay in pj's till noon and eat our breakfast at 10am. This suits all of us so much more than having to shovel down cereal at 7am and be out of the house by 8 with me shouting "Come ON! Eat the toast on the way! What do you mean? Bike one handed!"
  2. I reckon i've done the whole gift giving shebang for pretty much under 150 quid for everyone, which is 2 kids, husband, my mum and dad, in(out)laws, and various odd friends. This is because I am a cheapskate that refuses to buy her kids anything at all labelly or expensive until they are puce with the lack of it at 13 years. I've done it all at charity shops, carboots, Boyes,or in my kitchen. 
  3. It's not as bad as it sounds, really. Best buys were a vintage Silvercross pram for dolls for £1.50, A scooter for a quid, and a completely unused, still sealed Science Museum Microscope with slides for £1.50. Trust me, the kids are getting 30 plus presents each this year. Husband has a fetching Lumberjack shirt, lots of CD's and DVD's, and the obligatory socks and pants, the only things i've actually purchased new. For obvious reasons. Both sets of grandparents are getting 10 prints of the kids, and a box full of piccallili, chutney, lemon curd, walnuts, pickled onions, and homebrew wine. Friends have wine or chutney.  Cost is negligible, most of the fruit and veg is either homegrown or foraged. Biggest cost is time and vinegar. 
  4. Existential conversations about why Santa / Father Christmas has two names. Is it, as son posits, because he has to split himself in two for the different hemispheres? I must stop letting him look at atlases. 
  5. The fact that I actually made the nativity play this year. Even though, really, it wasn't very good. 
  6. The fact that daughter nabbed the part of Mary for her pre-school production because "real" Mary was ill. Her every step across the stage was filled with triumph and spite and made me search her room for little voodoo Christy-Lees'  (the "real" Mary). 
And then there's the shit. There's more of the shit.
  1. Yes, we were having a family Xmas. Yes, for the first time we'd said it was at OUR house, so we wouldn't have to drive, LIKE THE LAST 3 YEARS. Because, you know, the kids like to play with their toys and not be wrenched from them to drive cross country, and I like to have a drink, goddamit. But then it appeared that nobody wanted to drive. I gave a silent joyous "hallejuyah" and prepared to enjoy my day in pajamas with me, mine. Until the in-laws said they were coming. Let me just say that they turned up at 8 AM last time and stayed till 9PM. This made me a bit cross, because I like to be dressed to greet guests, and more than that, Xmas morning present opening and brief fleeting gratitude from the kids is MY PRESERVE: having been the one who wiped their arses all year. Back off, Out-Law. Not this time. I'm locking the door till noon, and i'm only opening it when i've had a pint of sloe gin and am teetering on the edge of ignoring / attacking any stupid right wing ideas that might / inevitably emerge over lunch. You can see where this will end up.
  2. They've already started comparing present sizes. It does not matter that I explain that worth is not related to size. No. The Biggest is the best. There will be tears, rows, weeping. 
  3. GO TO BED. YES. NOW. Jesus Christ, if threats and texts to Santa don't work now, they won't tommorrow. And they will wake up at 4, be grumpy by noon, just as the outlaws arrive and there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 
  4. Stop saying "I want". No, really. 
  5. I know what i'm getting. My kids told me because they are pathologically unable to keep a secret. And whilst I do need new slippers, my world is not on fire. A tiny bit of me wanted to say "And you're getting......."
  6. Cheese. I'll eat it. All. My arse will be big(ger) and it will be my own fault for watching the Dr Who Special on repeat with a WHOLE blue goats cheese, whilst kids sleep, husband has passed out through a combination of drunkeness and food.
Oh, and I forgot to by Paracetomol. 

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Buy the teacher booze.

This year is the first year i've been on the parental end of teacher present buying. I know it is traditional to moan and whine about how you never did it, what's the world coming to and so on, but there is actually no law that says your 4 year old can't like and appreciate his teacher, and in fact, I loved every, single, crappy, or boozy gift I was ever given.
Of course, as a secondary teacher, mine were often less handmade, and more boozy, which helped, but I can honestly say that everything was appreciated. Here are some tips and hints on teacher present buying, from the perspective of a teacher. I'll start with some of the best gifts ever, that I got. You'll note that none of them cost much.
Top Ten gifts received by me, as teacher.
  1. Absolutely best ever gift: a letter from a student thanking me and saying how i'd helped. Also copied to the Head. Thankyou X. 
  2. A huge hunk of cheddar. Probably shoplifted from Morrisons on the way in, and lobbed over with a "Ere you are Miss". Much appreciated by me and the staff party, and a lovely thought from a pupil not much taken with thought for anyone. 
  3. A fridge magnet made by a Year 7 student, consisting of a slab of plastic stuck onto a magnet with "You are my best teacher" written on it in Tippex. I kept this for years until it fell apart. 
  4. Some really large pajamas (my maternity leave co-incided with Xmas) from my form group, along with a note that said "My mum says these will be handy even after pregnancy, because you stay fat and the weight never comes off". 
  5. A sparkly, really, really sparkly pink fake cubic zircona keyring in the shape of a letter "M". Because my name was "Miss". 
  6. Any wine. Really. 
  7. Home made biscuits  wrapped up in paper which had a picture of me on it. Year 7's can be cruel. Yes, my heels were high and my suits severe, but I really didn't think my butt was that big. Biscuits were lovely, I ate them anyway, despite the pictoral evidence,  picture stayed on my wall in class for years. 
  8. Pens. Especially red ones. 
  9. Bath stuff. Yes, I know it's a cliche, but I could keep my bath going for half the year on my Xmas booty and I really appreciated each and every smelly. Although I admit the luminescent ones with no ingredient list went to the PTA raffle. Buy small, cheap, but good and hypo allergenic.
  10. A set of socks to be kept in my drawer because one very observant tutee noticed I always forgot to have spares, and after walking to school from the train station I often had wet feet till break.  Ditto tights.
So, you see, nowt over a fiver, and the top gift was free. I still have the card my form gave me as I left the school.

So, a few tips.
  • Cheap. 
  • Personal. Yes, let them draw the card / gift. This year we made the cards and let son (4) write in them. I've seen some lovely plain baubles that would be great decorated by your kid.  Letters are fab. Something the kid has made is NOT second best, it's the tops! 
  • Useful.  I say to you again: Pens. You have no idea how many pens teachers get through. And how tight the person with the key to the stationary cupboard is. 
  • Self pleasuring. Your teacher is knackered. Anything that involves a small bit of joy for them is heaven. So yes, bubble bath, scented candles, food, wine, chocolate.
  • Genuine. Don't fake it. Don't feel you have to. I never ever expected anything from any of the kids, and every gift was a bonus. I do not subscribe to PTA's that ask for donations for presents. I don't think every teacher deserves one, I know not every parent can afford it. Think simple. Free, cheap, personal, if the kid themself wants to. 
So, what has sons teacher got? A small scented candle, a homemade card, and some hair bobbles "because she has really long hair". She'll use the gifts, but the real gift is the fact that son wanted to get her something, and was desperate to write in her card all by himself. I'll tell her that, and that's the present, really. He likes her. 

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Leave God out of it please! He's 4!

I am a devout atheist. I don't believe in a higher power and I don't believe that morality is exclusively the preserve of the religious. I would vastly prefer not to be having conversations like this with my 4 year old.
"Why don't we go to the church and see Jesus?"
"Jesus isn't in the church. He's just a man who died a long long time ago that some people think was magical. We don't go because I don't believe that a magical man made the world. We have visited churches, because they are beautiful, but I don't want to go to listen to the vicar talk."
"But the baby was magic and they all worship him. Mrs (blank ) said."
"Well, the baby probably did actually exist, and some people might have worshipped him, but most probably he was just ordinary and then people just started to believe he was magic, and that's why they built the churches."
"What will happen if we can't go to the church?"
"But everyone else is! I'll be the only one!"
"No, you won't"
"Yes, it's on Friday!"

And lo, I had not read the letter in the bottom of the book bag which informed me that the whole class is attending church on Friday. Just an assumption there, that we all won't mind. Well, I do mind, I mind a fair bit. I mind enormously that the story of Christmas is taught as real, to a bunch of 4 year olds who don't have the ability to understand metaphor. I mind enormously that they'll be taken to church, which will also tell them it's real and really happened, and that a baby is the only thing that can "save" you from an unspecified state. I mind enormously that the link between church and state is such that schools are still obliged to peddle religion. I mind that schooling is not secular, as it is in France. I mind that we still have unelected Lords in the House just because they are Bishops. I mind that these people can pass or deny laws that might affect me on the basis of a faith that now only a small percent of the population actually adheres to. I mind that i'll look mean and he'll stand out of I choose to withdraw him. So he'll have to go and i'll have to spend weeks answering questions about a largely imagined God dreamt up by Church, and end up drawing a diagram of the Big Bang and having to read the bit of the Bill Bryson book that explains it to me in response.4 is, I think, a little young for me to be explaining that Christmas is a midwinter celebration, that we celebrate it for other reasons too, and that the church merely hijacked it at this point to stamp out any last remaining vestiges of paganism and con people into going to church instead, in much the same way they allowed Sheela-Na-Gigs and Green Men to be carved into roof beams. I've just told him that it's a story, just a story. And now both kids are playing their own version, in which Mary has a lot of Disney Princess dress up shoes and Jesus is a sort of super baby that can fly. Mixed in with a reprise of his performance as an Innkeeper, which was Niro-esque in brevity and scowling. To me, this isn't a lot more far fetched that telling children that they are born in sin and need to be saved. School, butt out of my (non) religious life.

Friday, 9 December 2011

SAD and Mad

Absence makes the heart grow fonder. But really, the reason i've been away for a while isn't just because i'm a lazy arse, it's because I'm SAD. Seasonally Affectively Dumb. I won't say Depressed, because i'm not, but I am dumb.
For those of us with a dodgy thyroid, or those of us without one, the months hugging either side of the shortest day can seem like one big, dreary Wednesday, with added dumbness thrown in. Even those of you with perfectly functioning butterfly glands may find yourself being weary and teary this time of year, and considering buying one of those SAD lamps that purport to sort you right out. The reason is that your thyroid, even your healthy one,slows down in the Winter months, and for most people, this will mean that your TSH (thyroid Stimulating Hormone) will kick in, and tell your thyroid to produce more of T4 and T3 to make you feel better. For most people this works. If your thyroid has packed up, it won't. You'll be stuck with your replacement dose of artificial T4 (and if you are lucky, like me, T3), and you'll be on a hiding to nothing to get the GP to up it for the Winter, leaving you with a grotty few months ahead.

How does this affect me? Well, round about end of October, I started to feel sluggish. Then came the jerking limbs, dropping things (7 mugs in one week, almost one child), joint pain. The random forgetting. And I do mean forgetting. Like having my 4 year old point out it was a school day (and bless him for it). Bad circulation, Reynauds syndrome in hands and feet (believe me, this is not fun. Your fingers and Toes go blue, then white, then hurt LIKE FUCK when they get blood back in them again), and  feeling cold, cold cold. As the thyroid person feels the cold more than most, Winter is not a nice time. I'm the one with 4 quilts and ten jumpers on. In the lounge. When, by November, I was starting to go to bed at 8pm again, I decided to be naughty. I upped my dose without asking the GP or having a blood test. And lo! 3 weeks in, I feel "normal" again (or what passes for it here).  There are lots of scholarly papers with titles like "Thyroid hormone fluctation in Male Sea Bass during Di-urnal Blah..." and a few papers from GP's saying they have found that their patients benefit from a dose increase, but most of the evidence is basically anecdotal. Because thyroid disease isn't really money-making, it attracts no big funding, it's not glamourous ( basic premise is that women get fat, hairless, moan a lot and feel crappy: no big dying gracefully, no big showbiz names with it, unless you count Davina Macall, which I don't, and it only happens to women anyway, so sod it).

So if you have a SAD feeling, my advice is to get your thyroid checked out. And if you already have a dodgy thyroid and feel worse, take a sneaky bit more. I can do this easily because my dosage allows me half a pack extra every month, but if you don't have this leeway, please do pop along to your GP and mention it. But for those of you with thyroid issues, crappy GP's and no sympathetic ear (which is a lot of us), here are some tips for getting through the Winter.

  • Eat small, often. Keep portions low on sugar but with energy giving properties. Porridge is great. You're aiming for a stove effect in your tum. 
  • See some sunshine. Any sun, even that piss-poor grey thing peeking through the cloud, helps your thyroid produce stuff. 
  • Keep extremties covered. I cannot explain how painful Reynauds' is to a non sufferer. When my fingers and toes have "gone" I can take a hammer to them and not feel it. But when the blood comes back, trust me, if the Inquisistion could have tapped that feeling, they would. I have thermal gloves covered by woollen gloves, and handwarmers (99p from Boyes!). Alongside snow boots and thermal socks. This does not make me the most glam mum on the school run, especially when combined with my fluffy old lady hat (also 99p from Boyes!) but hey, I can feel me toes and walk! A mum who cannot feel her toes is liable to criminally embaress her child. 
  • Flu jab! If, like me, you have autoimmune thyroid disease, your immune system is shot and a big dose of flu will just increase thryoid antibody activity. If they offer it, take it. 
  • Selenium. Helps decrease antibody activity and it's worth it. 
  • Take your medication at night. Bit controversial this one. Standard advice is to take meds first thing, and then leave 45 mins before drinking or eating. For me this is hard anyway (picture me, rising at 6am, policing the cereal arguments, forcing recalcitrant children into clothing, all WITHOUT FOOD OR COFFEE, nope, doesn't work), but I have found that taking it at night helps enormously with the morning "fug" before the meds kick in, and that fug is always worse in the Winter. I concede though, that as I eat my tea at 4.30 with the kids, I can go to bed on an empty tum and absorb the meds effectively. If you go to bed having eaten at 8 or 9pm, this is not for you. 
  • Get a big calendar, and round about September write on it in big letters IT'S YOUR THYROID, YOU'RE NOT JUST GETTING OLDER. Which is what I thought, because i'm nearly 40.
Normal service has been resumed, back to rants about dog poo and MP's later on this week.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Where have all the toilets gone?

There are certain times in your life when you are pressingly aware of needing a public toilet immediately. When you are pregnant (although it is apparently still legal to pee in the street when enciente, although I believe the bit about a policeman havign to offer you his hat is made up), when you are elderly, when you are in the company of any child under the age of 6, and when you have had children and your pelvic floor is in the basement. So, for a woman, pretty much 85% of your entire life is spent saying to yourself or a child "just hold on! Let's look for a John Lewis!"

Because there are no public toilets anymore. When living in London, this did not affect me, as public toilets were for drugs and sex, and there were a lot of John Lewis and cafes. Now I am rural, the lack of loos is much more obvious, because there are no shops open on the high street, none with loos you'd use, anyway (although I suspect the man in the hardware shop with the large array of knives in would let you use his, i'm just not sure he'd let you out again), and the library isn't open when you need a pee (although they are most obliging when they are). Luckily for me, I live in a small town (no, really, it is. A Town. It has a library, and a charity shop. See, town) which is richly endowed with 2 public toilets. They both have those utterly horrible metal contraptions that pretend to be seats (and the kids hate: "It's COLD! MY BUM IS COLD NOW!"), but they are there. I am grateful to them at least 4 times a week. And whilst they may suggest that some girls in town are of loose morals and one boy, too, they are clean and the graffitti is so badly written as to be unreadable phonetically by my 4 year old.

However, these little rooms of ease are under threat. Fenland District Council, in its' infinite wisdom, has decided to cut the budget by closing down a large percentage of them (reported here). Now, I appreciate that cuts are being made. But I also appreciate that this is a council that recently approved of a 25% hike in pay for themselves (although it's been stopped: apparently the manner in which they approved it was unethical, so it's been shelved, temporarily, until they can presumably decide on how to do it ethically, but nar nar anyway), and, hilariously, has also been in the news, yet again, for the Peegate scandal.

If you are going to cut public toilet provison, please do make sure that your council members, and crucially, Mayor, are not elderly, with pea sized bladders.  Or your Mayor and two councillors might get reported in the Daily Fail for weeing behind bushes and exposing themselves.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Big Price Drop: use your market!

(Note,: this was written and saved prior to posting, hence the weird time lapse thingy)
I noticed that Tesco, and indeed, all supermarkets, are in the news for the wrong reasons. Now, i'm no fan of Tesco, but people are always telling me that they are so much cheaper than local shops, so it's better the devil that is a large conglomerate. It's something that deeply concerns me, as planning permission has recently been given for an out-of-town large scale Tesco where I live. This would mean 16 Tesco within a 20 mile radius, alongside one small Sainsbury's and one Co-Op. I use the Co-Op and local market. The local market is twice weekly, Tuesdays and Fridays. Otherwise, there's a market in the neighbouring town on Saturdays, and chaps selling stuff from their front gardens. I worry intensely that when the Tesco comes, the market will go. Along with the hardware shop, bakers, and corner shop. And then, I will be at the mercy of Tesco, only Tesco. The Co-op have already stated they will close, along with the other shop that I use attached to the petrol station, which has released a statement saying they will close.
So what difference will it make to me, if my weekly shop has to be done at Tesco? Fisrtly, let's look at why their "Big Price Drop" is in the news this week. The naughty buggers have been, get this, raising prices on products, then dropping them, so they can say they've dropped prices, but actually, secretly, have not. Now, "Supermarkets in huge profit at expense of shopper" is not headline news to me, and I am the sort of person who works out the price ratio in BOGOF's, but yes, it's sneaky. And a lie. But my real concern is that, once there is nothing but a swathe of Tesco from end to end of the country, what then? Where will my choice be once the one in my town is open? I won't have one. I will be at the mercy of the remaining supermarket, my garden being mainly taken up by chickens, and as any fule kno, chickens and veg growing do not go hand in hand. Although I could, of course, eat the chickens.
So, this week, here is my weekly shop, price compared with Tesco.
This week, we'll be eating:
Sunday: Roast chicken, broccoli, carrots, parsnips, and potatoes.
Monday: Lunch: sweetcorn fritters Dinner:Leftover Chicken pie and veg
Tuesday: Lunch: Tuna melts and salad Dinner: Cottage pie and peas
Wednesday: Lunch: homemade pizza with salami and salad, Dinner:Toad-in the hole, onion gravy, mash and peas
Thursday: Lunch: Jacket spuds and cheesy spinach and mushroom Dinner: Pork Stroganoff and rice
Fri: Lunch: homemade falafel, hummus,and pitta Dinner:Kedgeree
Snacks: flapjacks and fruit.
My shopping list is this:
Chocolate milk powder (I know, I know.....), Tinned sweetcorn, Plain crisps, Rice,Self Raising flour
Cheddar cheese, Feta cheese,tinned chickpeas,plain yoghurt,potatoes,carrots,spinach,parsnip,celery
2 courgette, 2 peppers, mushrooms,apples,pears,tangerines,cucumber,lettuce, 10 fat sausages, 1 chicken, 500g beef mince, 500g pork loin, 1 smoked kipper, butter,  .

I will use from my storecupboard the eggs from the chooks, frozen peas, oats, doings for flapjacks, salami, tuna, lentils for the cottage pie (mixed with mince, makes it stretch, I can make 2 and freeze 1),and bread/ pizza dough, which I make myself.

I'll buy the veg, fish and meat from the market and everything else from the Co-Op. Of course, this shop does not include cleaning products and tea, coffee, etc. Those I buy from a wholesalers in bulk. I can't be arsed to work out whether homemade bread works out cheaper, I suspect not, but is IS nicer and therefore we eat a lot of it. You can see the evidence on my arse.

So how does it all add up?

Chicken: From Dave the Butcher, (at March Quality Meats) the chicken is sourced by him, it's fat and juicy, it's 4.99. I know they roast beautifully, I love his quality. There's never anything like that "meat tray" smell you get in supermarket chickens. And it's big. I reckoned that it equates to the Tesco "Fresh Whole Chicken 1.60kg" at 4 quid, which is their least battery like offering that isn't "finest". My chicken is bigger, at 2kg, so I reckon that's about odds even.
Sausages: Now, I won't eat crap sausages. I eat good meat content sausages. So I reckon Tesco "finest" are about equal to Daves. Tescos' are £2.28 for 6. 6 is no good in this household, we need 10. Dave wins, with his 10 prize winning sausages at £2.70.  And they are nicer.
500g beef mince: Again, i'm going to compare Tesco Finest with Dave. Because I know, from experience, the difference between Tesco cheap and "finest". It's about a pint of fat. And I know that Dave basically minces a bit of beef. I've seen him do it. Tesco charge £2.90. Dave charges £2.98 for mince i've seen being made.
Pork Loin: Tesco is £4.50 per 500g. Dave is £4.20.
Smoked kipper: Tesco:£2.50 per 500g. Fish counter at the market is £3.20.
Meat and fish can be slightly more expensive. But the quality is amazingly different. In Tesco, you get what is packed. Even at the counter. At the butchers, you get what you ask for. That fatty bit for long stewing, that nice marbled bit for roasting. And they know their meat, where it comes from, how to cook it. And you can get chops with kidneys on, as extra, for nowt.

Tinned goods and dry goods are much of a muchness. The Nisa and Co-op are pretty much the same on sweetcorn, chickpeas and feta. In fact the corner shop, which is a Nisa, is by far and away the winner on plain yoghurt, beating Tesco by 25p.
Cheese I get from the butchers. Again, a slab of cheddar is 10p cheaper than Tesco and equivalent in make up.
But by far and away the winner in  terms of quality AND price is the market. Every single veg I buy from the market is both cheaper, fresher, and of better quality than any I have ever purchased from Tesco. Not only that, but it is far and away greener. It's sourced locally, and in some cases, grown by the bloke with the stall. It has no plastic shrinkwrap on it (Tesco: does your broccoli need that? Really?), it is not packaged. It is handed to you in brown paper bags. You can buy bulk (sacks of potatoes and carrots) or tiny. You buy what you need, so you save yourself money and landfill. If you buy from a market, you don't buy excess vegetables or fruit because they are in the bag. there's less to sit in your salad crisper going off. You buy to need: only what you will cook. Plus, the market ladies and gents can tell you where the stuff came from and whether it's been treated with anything. Usually, the answer is no. Of course, the peppers from Tesco last longer. But frankly, there's something frightening about a pepper that lasts for 4 months. What shit has that been sprayed with? I actively want my veg to decompose when it is not fresh. If you are only buying what you need, you don't need to worry about things melting into brown goo in your fridge. Market veg work out at an astonishing 41 % cheaper.

In summary, the Tesco website shows me that for battery, intensively farmed, lower quality produce, my weekly shop comes in at 70 odd quid, whereas my market shop comes in at around 60, purely on the basis that vegetables are actually really cheap.  It also has significantly less packing, less air and road miles, and more "green" points. It's greener because there is less waste, you buy what you need. It's economic for the same reasons. It's better because you shop locally, support jobs locally, support local producers without screwing them over for profit, and you get the added bonus of actually talking to people who live where you live, maybe having a chat while you feel up the broccoli. You get to tell the butcher what you want next week. He'll buy you in some bits. I've asked him for some chicken livers next week, he'll get them.  You get bones for your dog or stock, free. You get a chat and recipes, maybe a freebie asking you to test his barbecue rub. You get to be part of a community.

And that's the rub. Shopping where you live, supporting local businesses is key to keeping where you live a NICE place to live. Of course i'm aware that not everyone has time to shop at markets in the week. But rather than moan that that is why we need Tesco et al, why not moan that that is why we need more weekend markets? They ARE cheaper. You buy into a lie when you think otherwise. Their only stranglehold is "convinience", and that is why they pay premium rates for real estate in towns and villages where there ARE thriving small stores and markets. Look! The shop is bright at night and shiny! It MUST be more convinient! No, not really. Which is nicer, spending 2 hours driving to and trawling round a huge Tesco express and ending up paying over the odds for poor quality produce and loads of shit you don't need, or spending an hour at a market on a Saturday morning teaching your kids how to shop, then going and doing something else?

I know what I want. A shame our town council take the silver for the opposite, instead of investing in the town they already have.

And sadly, so did the people of Somersham. But they still got  a Tesco. Thanks to their council.  And so will we.

I urge anyone who is facing the supermarketisation of their village or town to visit this website, Tescopoly.  There is hope: communities CAN stop Tesco, and other supermarkets from killing their towns. (It helps if you don't live in Fenland: the developers paradise). Supermarkets are developing exponentially, abusing the planning system (and this is going to get worse) and wiping out competition.  Use your market.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Do you deserve 25% more?

I've been away for a bit. Frankly, i've been trying to figure out how to shave pennies and pounds off of my budgets and trying to help son through the first half term of school. There are lots of things I could have done with 25% more of. Time. There is never enough of it. Somehow the hours between 6-8 am and 4-7 pm vanish in a haze of , in the morning, shouting "Come ON! Get UP! Eat THIS! Get DRESSED!", and in the evening, of urging a tired boy to eat something, read something, go to bed.

Money. Of course, money. Imagine what an extra 25% of your current income could buy. I'm ok for food, mostly, but there are no savings in this household, merely a complex system of robbing Peter to pay Paul. And extra 25% would allow me to put by for the kids, pay off debts, inch back towards the black. Buy the kids shoes without panicking that both of them need them at once. 25% more petrol: more family visits, more friend visits. Heck, just ONE friend visit. I was mortified earlier this month to naysay a trip to London, but as it would have cost nigh on 2 weeks worth of shopping, I just could not do it.
25% is a LOT.
A 25% increase in wages, in anyones' book, is like a dream for most, unless you are a banker. Or, as it turns out, a Cambridgeshire County Councillor. This week, they universally voted, with a few notable exceptions (Steve Tierney, a Conservative who has the odd flash of conscience and a few Lib Dems trying to look as if they were still independent of their masters), to increase their pay allowance by 25%. And on top of this, the expenses, the allowances (SRA's: special Responsibility Allowances, can amount to thousands and thousands more per year, and not all the "responsibilities" are ones you or I would recognise as being useful. How useful, exactly, is a memeber with responsibility for the environment who actively promotes a huge out of town Tesco?) and extras also go up by 25%. This at the same time as public sector workers in Cambridgeshire face pay freezes, cuts and job losses (450 and counting). There are cuts to the police, the fire service (whole stations going), the buses, the provision of elderly and juvenile care. Librarians replaced by machines, if you are lucky and haven't lost your library altogether. The total amount spent on allowances will shoot up by £166,000 to £929,000. Just imagine what that increase could have done to the cuts. Made them far less "necessary" for starters.
Of course, the Conservative stalwarts are edging out and sneering that if you "pay peanuts you get monkeys", neatly leaving aside the fact that if you pay them, you get totally self seeking shits. Fenland Leader, the Bunter-like Alan Melton, gave a hilarious speech in which he bemoaned the fact that without these raises, as in the past, apparently, the Council would be full of "teachers using days off, and unionists", as opposed, presumably, to the fat pigs at the trough we now get. We all know how evil teachers are..... He is not worried about the letter writers and tweeters apparently. Here is his speech, in part, in blue, naturally.
“I will vote in favour and I am not worried about the plethora of letter writers going to appear in Cambridgeshire Times next week,” he said.
“Neither am I concerned about the vociferous and anonymous tweeters without the guts to stand up and say what they think to your face.
“The people I will answer to are my electorate and as I long as they are satisfied I am doing a good job I will continue to stand. I’m proud of my record and I can stand by that record.”
Cllr Melton said he had been a councillor for 30 years, had won 13 elections and “yes I draw from the public purse. I have never tried to hide that and I am totally open and transparent.”
I'm not anonymous, Alan. Come see me and explain your worth.

Ah, Alan. Poor Alan. So poverty stricken that he apparently has to rely on his wifes' wage to survive. I suppose it must take quite a bit to pay for all those extensions to his house, but there was me assuming that the average Council Leaders wage was liveable on. I've tried to pinpoint exactly how much Mr Melton bags pa., but it seems strangely difficult to get hold of the information. Some council leaders bag upwards of 250K pa, others 80K. I've heard whispers of around 139K in this instance, which hardly means he is reduced to eating dog biscuits. If he's having to ask his wife for money, what is he spending it on? Land buying, so he's ready for all the development he's planning, presumably. Or maybe just pies.

Either way, what seems apparent here is not just that the Council are woefully out of step with what the ordinary members of the UK are suffering, but that they don't actually care. Any Council with a teeny tiny modicum of common sense might have delayed any pay rise until, say, they weren't suffering some of the highest unemployment levels or food price rises in 15 years. Any Council with any sense might have thought twice about moaning in public about how dreadfully off the poor councillors are. Whilst laying off more council workers.

What's also a real point here in Fenland is that it shows just how complacent the Conservative stranglehold is. They know full well that they can do anything they bloody well please. And now with the pay award, they'll be the only ones with any money to print off any election leaflets, pay hustings and so on. What is equally pathetic is how Labour have done precisely nothing. They make no effort to field candidates, they don't make mileage out of the sheer crassness of their opposistion, nothing, nada. They have given us up to die. Sacrificed us to Melton, the piemaker of Fenland.

And what is sad is that it can be done differently. Islington Council, never a terribly poor Council, has undertaken to pay a fair wage. It's highest paid worker will never be paid more than 10 times the wage of its' lowest. Furthermore, it's undertaken to pay a living wage to the lowest paid of £8.30 per hour.

If you live locally, or even if you don't, a petition is available from Saturday to protest against this rise. Please do sign it.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Other peoples kids love my house

At some point over the Summer holiday, it became apparent that my house was simply the best house on the street. It has a big flashing beacon above it,visible only to those between 3-12, that advertises the fact that we have a) chickens and b) a soft soap mother inside. From August onwards, every knock at the door was a kid. Sometimes 2 or 3. Sometimes with kids that even the kids I knew didn't know. ("Who's he?" "Dunno. He's got a bike") In the (few) sunny days we had, i'd let them in. They'd play in the garden, bounce on the trampoline, eat all my ice pops,  and basically make my 4 year old feel really cool. He'd show off to them and they'd ignore him.

When school started, it thinned. Now we are down to a hardcore of 4 kids who love this house. They play beautifully with my two, and can while away several hours with a handdrawn treasure map and the garden. But things have changed.

Firstly, it's school nights. Secondly, he's 4. Thirdly, I don't want him up till 8pm playing kerbie. And yes, he IS asking because he sees you do it (even though you are 6). And lastly, don't you have to go home and eat, or something? Turns out, no. The weekend just gone, we had 6 kids, from the street, from 11am  until 8pm, at a barbecue we had for friends. Of course, we fed them. Because they didn't go! And nobody came for them. Son thinks it's great, but i'm wondering.

How can a parent allow a child out for that long, round someones house, without actually meeting me? How can they not ask them home? How can they not? And if they cannot do that, how can I send them away?

I'm thinking back to a time when I was about 13, and in a state at home. I had a friend whose mother was probably sick to the back teeth of me mooching about being grim and sad, but she nonetheless fed me, let me stay till hometime, and never hassled me. It was like a little snapshot of how families were. I would watch the  mum and dad chat and talk to each other happily. I'd be amazed at the meals. So big! So home cooked! So not a Findus Crispy pancake!  I loved them. I wanted to be adopted. I'm pretty sure I went as far as asking. In short, they were a lifeline. So i'm not about to turn away a few kids who want to be here rather than there. But I am thinking ground rules. I'd quite like to hear from anyone who has the problem, to see what you think of these:
My house, my rules
You get it out, you tidy it up
You're only in the rooms i say so, and NEVER in mine
Monday-Thursday, my kids bedtime is your time to go. I know you stay up later. I don't care.
You eat, you wash up with me.
If I say go, you go.
You give me your parents phone numbers.

I'm loathe to rush round the houses of the parents and insist on meeting them, but I do wonder if I shouldn't try to see them. But I fret i'll get me head kicked in. Reading back I sound judgemental. Maybe i'm out of time. Maybe everything has reverted back to goalposts for jumpers and everyone playing in the street. Give 'em a jam sandwich and send 'em off all day. Am I being precious? I'd really like an opinion.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

I'm happy, i'm happy, and i'll punch the man who says I'm not

Well, who knew that starting school could take so long. Now son is onto his full days I may actually get some time to witter. That's when i'm not punching people. Here is a list of people i'd quite like to punch this week.
  • In first place, David Cameron, for having that stupid smug kidney bean shaped face as he tells us we're all in it together, and then lifts the ban on champagne at the Tory Party Conference.
  • In second place, Michael Gove, just because. Cats' arse mouth, limp fish hands, totally empty brain.
  • In third place, the horrible gaggle of mothers round the school entrance who stand around fatly, smoking, and after dropping their kids off in a hurried manner, all retreat to a corner to bitch loudly and horribly about anyone who isn't in their gang. (Usually me). Whilst this might have frightened me as a timid 12 year old, now it just makes me sad for their kids, and them. Mostly their kids, because:
  • In fourth place: the mother of the boy who headbutted mine,for being that sort of mother and bringing up that sort of boy. Poor boy. Mine just looked astonished, because he doesn't know what a headbutt is. (I witnessed it: I was waiting to pick him up), but hers looked like he knew exactly what one was, and how to use one, which is pretty sad in a reception aged child. I was middle class enough to insist that my son be moved away from said child though. I'm not that sympathetic.
  • In fifth place: HMRC for telling us we owe them 6K, even though it was their fault. With nary an apology. We still have to pay it, even though it was their error. Nice job. I'd like a job like that. Hello Sir, that thing I did for you? I did it wrong, you owe me 6K. Thanks for that. Of course, it's easier to go after us, than, say, Vodafone, with their big, legal tax hideewees.
  • In sixth place: The council, who, not content with cutting us to a bus that goes nowhere useful every two hours, now want to cut that bus even further, so I will be forever trapped in the village (fucks sake, it's a VILLAGE people! Yes, I know you were brought up here, but a pub and a cross eyed dog doesn't make it a TOWN) with the bitchy mums who are all related. And they are all related.
On the other hand, son had a glowing report from his first parents evening, and is reported to be a well behaved charming individual, with a big house point collection. Beam. And daughter is now at playgroup a whole day, and this means I have a (semi) whole day from 10-2 to do things in. Beam. I will not clean the loo. I will not. 2 mornings a week I am volunteering at the school, my first foray back into a classroom since 2007, hopefully with Year 6. So some good bits out of the past few weeks. I'm with Ivor Cutler.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Bullace, Sloe, gin and Tories.

I am avoiding a "my son went to school" post because I would cry. I am not even posting a picture of him looking like a shrunken person in a uniform way too big, being all brave. I am leaving that till I feel able to cope without weeping. Suffice to say that this week, instead, I turn to Mothers Solace (aka Mothers Ruin), gin. And a jolly good reason for gin, the Tories (aka as a Mothers Ruin).

The soon-to-be-built on land at the rear of my house is my foraging ground. Last week, I rooted round the old drove road and picked up a good 3 ice-cream tubs of sloes and bullace. Apparently, the bullace has a sweeter taste, but really, they are much of a muchness. I have seen bullace that are red and orange, but most are basically sloe like. That is to say, small, purple/bluish  (with a blueberry lustre tinged with darker shades), slightly larger than a big blueberry, but more ovoid, and with a lovely blue bloom on until rubbed. If your sloe find has thorns and is a shrub sort of size, with fruit close to the branch (and usually, the thorns: buggerit), then it's a sloe. If your find is small tree sized, and thornless, with the berries in more of a cluster, then it's a bullace. You can usually find them alongside each other and in any good sized hedgerow. Some purists say you should wait until the first frost to pick, arguing that a sloe gin or brandy made with frosted sloes or bullace is of a deeper palate. I say, bugger that, it's got to mature anyway for months, and I need it in time for Christmas, i'm buggered if I can afford many Xmas presents this year, a small bottle of Bullace gin is your lot. So, I pop them in the freezer overnight and purchase a great huge bottle of cheap gin. I am not bothering with "posh" gin, although some people will tell you it matters. For me, the taste of fruit and sugar means I can overlook the quality of gin.

Next, get yourself a bucket with a lid, a big pickle jar, or if you are me, a MASSIVE plastic jar which once held over 1,000 gherkins (thoroughly washed and sterilised. Don't ask,it was once one of daughters eating jags). For every 75cl of gin, add 500 g of sloes or bullace, and 250g of sugar. Some people like more, some less, taste it in a month and add more if you want. Smoosh the defrosted berries with the sugar with the end of a rolling pin. Add the gin. Lid on, and shake. Shove it in a dark cupboard. For the first week or so, shake it every day. Then every week. When it's ready (when the sugar has gone, it's a nice gloopy texture and dark colour), decant it carefully through a jelly bag into your chosen bottle. Give it to someone you like or drink it yourself.

Where do the Tories fit in? Well, their recent "leaked" (for which, read : judiciously thrown out info to test the waters) documents on plans to woo female voters make me need a gin quicker than mine is maturing. Shorten the Summer holidays? For why? To urge mums back to work. It annoys employers. No need to ask *them* to change, natch. Fiddle about with benefits a bit more? Why not just give back the ones you've nicked? Or, how's this? How about you stop thieving money from the comprehensives to pay for "Free" schools, so every child can get a fair whack? How about you stop shutting down reading schemes, Bookstart, libraries, Surestart? How about you stop slicing school bus services? How about you stop cutting to the bone those public sector jobs that women actually do? How about you stop presiding over one of the biggest periods of female unemployment since the 1980s? How about you explain what is happening to those women who now no longer get child benefit, and thus to NI payments that were linked to that?  How about not penalising women who are carers, or mothers of the disabled? How about not shutting or cutting to the bone special needs services? Or services for the elderly? (It's mums who care for kids and elderly relatives, after all). And it goes on..... and on.... Tories. The party of really hating women and thinking that they're too thick to notice. Pour yourself a gin and have a think. If you were one of those women who voted them in, take a look. Better off? Thought not. Every woman is allowed an error. Well do I remember my mum voting for Thatcher because she thought she'd be better off under a woman. Nope. A Tory is a Tory, and even the women are men. Raise your glasses to a clearer sight next election. Before it's too late.

Monday, 5 September 2011

The long walk to school.

I live in the metaphorical big toe of the village/town. (I say it's a village, people who were born here say it's a TOWN). I am as far as you can be from where anything else is. My walk to school/playgroup/ a corner shop with something in it takes 40 minutes (what IS IT with the only "handy shop" by me? 2 copies of the Daily Mail and some year old packets of oregano is NOT A SHOP). And that is with one kid on a bike and another yardarmed into a buggy. Without those handy wheels, it's an hour.

And so I have been pondering the value (or hell) of the walk to school/playgroup.

I like it. In fact, I love it. Not only are my kids not going to turn into those little fattie kids that get out of the cars being driven up to the schoolgate by HUMAN DUVETS WITH EYES (Yep, that's what some of 'em look like), but I actively enjoy the walk. It is more than a walk. It is a period in the day that is, once we are out of the doors, (and we get there with much ravening and shouting) is a pause of quiet, of conversation, of wondering. We know the seasons. We spot the insects, the individual snail, the errant poppy. We know when each tree is budding, dropping, or letting growing something we can half-inch and eat. We spot the same people every day, the postman (or lady, and she is a lady), the lorry drivers, the tractor driver (we are rural), the same Suzuki GSX and Yamaha RX, at the same time every day. It gives us a sense of motion, of belonging, of, for the kids, security. This will happen, this is where I am , I know where I live.

More than that, it's when we chat. We discuss why red and black ants don't get along, why we don't have rings like Saturn, why a GSX is better (or not) than an RX. It's when thinsg pop up, who said what, why he/she is worrying, why do we do this not this? And it gives me leave to answer while we get to the wall that both children MUST walk on. It is on the walk to school that a "Mum, here is a flower for you" can happen. Or a sudden stop while they both look at an aeroplane, and I marvel at them.

On the walk, we discuss the hideous deaths that can await the unwary child on a ROAD. We stop,look, listen and then DO IT AGAIN because this is Fenland, and people drive crazy. Son has learnt to bike, daughter to scoot. They have both perfected the walk-semi-run that was the mark of my childhood with my nan, an epic fast walker. (My other half remarks that I am the fastest walker known to man). We overtake slow people.

Of course, the way back home when they're both knackered, is utterly, utterly, shit and 70 minutes of screaming, yelling nightmare that is onyl alleviated by the administration of flapjacks every 50 yards.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Pre-School Detox, here we come, and no, it's not wee i'm drinking.

Oh, but i've been a lazy arse this holiday. Laying in until 7, letting the kids stay up till 8pm. Lolling round in pajamas until lunchtime, and sitting chewing the fat with friends while their and mine ran round screaming, flinging mud. Sometimes with an unreasonably early glass of wine. So this week is detox week. Detox from that enjoyable lack of time pressure, and practice hauling me and mine out of bed again, shovelling breakfast down them and shouting "Come ON! COME ON!". Back to the grind and no drinking on a schoolnight. Because i'll have to be up at 6 and out of the house by 8 which is no fun with a hangover, even a mild one (although i've never tried it still drunk.....) Plus, (whisper it) the 6 weeks off the 8 mile round walk to playgroup and back twice, sometimes 4 times a day, along with generous self servings of wine has resulted in my arse being not only lazy but bigger.
So, it's probably a good thing i'll be back to spending the whole day walking back and forth in drizzle soon. But really, what am I going to drink? Non alcoholic beer is shit, just as calorific with no pay-off in fun.  And I hate fake alcohol drinks, as much as I hate that vegetarian bacon that pretends to be bacon. Just don't even pretend, because we all know you really, really, want to get drunk/ eat pig. You can't fake it. So I have decided on proper detox drinking, drinking stuff that will not only taste nicer than non-alcoholic wine or beer, but will actually detox me by helping me. Alright, some have sugar in, but hey, I can't have NO FUN AT ALL.

First up is mint and lemonbalm cordial. This is delicious with tonic water and would probably be really, really lovely with gin, so i've made enough to last me out my month in purgatory,leaving some over for a gin fest afterwards. It is simplicity itself to make.

Get yourself 50g of mint and lemonbalm. I did 30 g mint, 20 lemonbalm. Smoosh it up with 300g of white sugar with  a pestle and mortar if you are feeling like you'd need a PROPER drink DAMMIT, or use a processor till you get mint/sugar pesto. Pour over 300 ml of boiling water, stir, leave till cold. Then sieve out the minty stuff, leaving you with a liquid in a pan, stir till any remaining sugar is gone, then bring to the boil for 2 minutes. Bottle, and cool. Add to tonic water and drink. Lovely. Lasts for a month in the fridge. My nan, and most similar recipes, added green food colouring, because, in truth, the cordial without it looks like wee, but I didn't have any, and I don't care what I drink. It's doing me good. Mint is great for stomach calming and menstrual pain, as well as being handy for stopping wind. Fab! And the lemonbalm is anti-viral, lowers blood pressure, and acts as a calming herb, being slightly soporific. It's also noted for its' anti-histamine properties., If , like me, you are hypothyroid, note that lemonbalm is known to reduce TSH levels, and as such, can be handy on those days when you know your synthetic thyroxine just isn't doing its' job.  And when you're done, don't throw away the green mush, which will have some sugar granules in it, most likely. Use it for a facial mask and then scrub, as mint and lemonbalm are good skin toners, and the sugar will be a gentle scrub. There, i've saved you money, and given you the chance to trick people into thinking you're drinking wee.

Next up is Tangerine Barley Water.This is packed with vitamin C and also has the added benefit of barley, which not only lowers cholesterol, but helps weight loss (apparently). Drinking barley water is an old cure for skin problems. It contains a lot of selenium (which is good news for autoimmune disease sufferers, as selenium is indicated in helping to reduce the severity of autoimmune attacks), and pretty much all your niacin requirements for a day. This drink tastes yummy with tonic water or plain water, and I imagine would make a lovely variation of the gimlet.........Ah. Gin. How I miss you and it's only been a few days.
This recipe makes a slightly concentrated version of barley water, so you don't need to use much. It keeps for a month after bottling, and all the usual precauations apply with regard to bottling stuff. Don't kill yourself with bad hygiene.

You will need 3 juicy tangerines, 1 juicy lemon. Take off the zest and put it into a bowl. Then squeeze all the juice into another bowl, and strain to remove pith and pips. Meanwhile, boil up 85g of pearl barley, boil for 2 mins, drain. Add 1 pint of clean water, bring to boil, and add thr zest. Simmer for 45 minutes. I like to add a cardomon pod to the water too, but this is optional. Then, you want that barley water, so strain it into a pan, and don't , like I did the first time, tip it down the sink in an idiot moment. Add 300g of sugar to it, dissolve. Then add the juice from your tangerines and lemons, bring to the boil, boil for 2 minutes, and bottle. Easy!

And it doesn't look as much like wee.

So, I embrace the sober life, for a few weeks at least, and if I don't lose some of my arse I shall be most put out.

Friday, 26 August 2011

School shoes made of fairy gold, only black

How criminally stupid am I that I didn't click to the fact that son will not only need new school shoes now his feet have grown, and Big School beckons, but also shoes to wear out of school. It had clean vanished from my head. I don't know what I was imagining he'd wear at weekends. Maybe the wellies, or Buzz Lightyear slippers. Leastways, even with my cheapskate buying techniques, the Back to School spend has been, well, expensive. I've purchased the minimum, but the minimum is a lot. Despite the school being a comprehensive, so no boater buying, the polo shirts and fleeces add up. Then there's the water bottle, the lunchbox (HOW much for a box?), the bag, the PE kit. All in all, I reckon i've spent the best part of 100 quid, putting me at about average, according to research. And that was before shoes.

The shoes that small boys (and girls) wear are not made as mortal shoes. No, they are made from the finest unicorn skin, heeled in Griffin scales and modelled so as to gift the wearer with the power to fly. As they slip on the shoes, they become magically endowed with the power to make money vanish from the moth eaten purses of parents. "Oh Mummy!" the bairns do cry, "these shoes are magnificent! Surely I will be top of the (overlarge and underfunded) class in these shiny and most drearily coloured feet coverings! Please buy them anon!" And Lo! The parent doth unclasp the purse, and wearily part with the best part of 50 quid for a pair of black Startrites. Before walking the walk of shame to the cheap shoe shop, to buy some trainers, for weekends, that are made, verily, from no natural substance, and will not repel rain. But are 10 quid.

If his feet grow before he's had a good 3 months out of them, i'll weep.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

And here's some artefacts we found earlier.....

This week I've had the pleasure of finding out a little more about the archaeology at the bottom of my garden. Thankfully, I didn't have to have that annoying Mr Robinson in, I merely exercised my rights as a nosy bolshy person and invited a consultant round for a cuppa. The consultant in question was a Mr Rob Bourne, of CGMS, a firm that works for developers, handling the pesky archaeology requirements before huge swathes of teeny tiny executive homes can be hoisted up.He conducts the evaluation reports for the County Council and reports back, to say whether there is anything there worth looking at or not. You can see the interview with him here. It was eye opening in more ways than one.

Firstly, I discovered a little about the planning process. What amazed me about it is the sheer hugely deadening grey aspect of it. It is impenetrable unless you are a) a planner and b) a councillor who is essentially, a planner or developer (and oddly, Fenland is awash with them), or c) a nosy bolshy person who won't shut up until it's explained to you. The whole system of planning is based around a "need to know" attitude which basically means that unless you ask, and ask again, and then ask again, crossly and with threats, you won't find out. If I hadn't asked and asked again about the evaluation dig at Tithe Road, i'd have been told nothing, and known nothing about it. Because I harassed people, I have now been told that i'll be mailed the evaluation report by the nice Mr Bourn. Anyone can read it apparently, but first you have to know it's there. And then there's the whole maze of applications, developers, people in peoples' pockets and so on and so on. You need a mind with the tenacity of a starving Jack Russell in a warrent o keep at it. Luckily, I don't have much to do of an evening.

Secondly, I found that the system of recording finds, and deciding whether something is worth digging or not is tenuous. I've no doubt that Mr Bourne was a nice man with the interests of everyone at heart, but the fact remians that a consultant employed by the developers is not the most partisan of people to write a report about the findings. Whilst I trusted him, I do wonder if this system is open to abuse. Of course it ruddy is. Luckily, Mr Bourne has flagged up finds and is recommending further excavation in the case of Tithe.

Thirdly, where does all this stuff go? So much is found, so much, then, vanishes again. Every build has an evaluation dig. Every dig has a report. (or at least, *should*, despite Mr Melton's protest), but where do they end up? In the realms of grey literature. Processed somewhere and stashed away in the archives, unasked for, unpublicised, unwanted by anyone, least of all the planners. There they sit, in Cambridgeshire or wherever archives, full of tasty info about the history of where YOU live, and nobody knows they are there, unless they are nosy and bolshy enough to ask. Sensing a theme here?

Fourthly: There's a huge amount out there! I recommend to you a visit to the Heritage Gateway, here, and if you are Cambridgeshire, search the Cambridge Historical  Environment database. You will be astonished by the huge amount of STUFF found on your doorstep. In  Chatteris alone, there are Roman encampments, Bronze Age canoes, shields, urns, barrows, Iron age barrows and burial grounds,  coin hoardes, medieval settlements sites, Roman farms, it goes on and on. Over 1116 reports and records that you can access. Of course, you'd need to be nosy and.... you see. You need to know this stuff. Because most of these reports come from evaluation digs, prior to toytown houses popping up.

Fifthly (is fifthly even a word? It just sounds wrong, doesn't it?) This week I have learnt so much. I'm treading on history. Much more than I ever suspected. Why don't we know about it? Why don't we have fabbier, fatter local museums that know about this? If I can spend 2 hours reading through this stuff and build up a rich picture of where I live in history, why can't you? Because you have to be.....
You have to be in the know. You have to be a pain in the bum. So go, go to your local planners. Ask about developments. Keep an eye out for those yellow signs on lamposts conviniently located above normal eyelevel that tell you a major development is coming. Read the boring notices in the back of the local paper. Go to council meetings. Harass people for reports.
I now know that the site for major development at the back of my house has 3 settlements, Bronze, Iron, and Roman, alongside a glacial feature that was in all likelihood water filled for the majority of the year. There are bones, postholes and eveidence of longterm settlement.  All over the fields there's ridge and furrow, possibly one barrow. The settlements lay where the road will go, and for this reason the consultant has intimated to me that his evaluation report will ask for mitigation to pursue an extensive excavation. Now it's in the hands of the developers as to when. If they choose, they can do it all at once, and then be able to "sell on" a "clean" site that has it all done. Or, they can choose to develop up to the sites, sell the houses, and do the dig at the last minute. So we could get a dig this year, or in ten years, when presumably they will be hoping i've moved by then. Either way, those who are interested will have to be nosy...etc etc to keep an eye on it.

Here's the political bit. Leaving aside the HUGE ALAN MELTON BOO BOO that he has been using a private email address to conduct Fenland business, and most especially, that this Freedom of Information Act request has stated that, because of this, info about Melton and development cannot be released (, oh yes, more of that next post, and you can see the application for the FOI here), politically archaeology and development are both in this together with the localism bill. The localism bill plays fast and loose with planning, making it easier than ever for developers and nasty fat little councillors to make their bucks and ruin communities, and whilst it *says* it gives locals a voice, it really does not. You can comment on websites, surely, but there's not much you can do.And we do need to do something. The East of England Development plan, and the Fenland section in particular, sanctions MASSIVE development of the Fens.(17,000 houses in ten years) The report, which can be accsessed here, details the major housing expansion in the area, and asks to comment. If you are local, please do. But do more than that. Ring and ask them about how they are addressing the "locals" section of all this. If there is anything you read that concerns you, contact them. In other words, be nosy, annoyed and persistant. Email is easy to ignore.

 And in terms of the archaeology? Southport group report recommended a number of moves that would enable archaeology and the developers to, in trendy report speak, "enable" each other. (You see what I did there? Do you feel warm and cuddly now?). It's a good report with some good ideas, and the main thrust of it seems to me to be goodhearted, and sensible, placing the onus on public participation and publication, getting the info out there. It's worth a  read. And anyone local who is interested in putting some of those ideas into place in the Fens, particularly around major new developments that are coming, is welcome to mail me and we'll sort something out.

Council brief summary of Chatteris history. Pretty basic.
Heritage gateway: ruddy fab

Saturday, 6 August 2011

I begin the long kiss goodbye to my view

At the end of my garden, there are fields. Lots of them. A flat eye view all the way to Ely. I love them. This week they have given me 10lbs of blackberries and the same again of wild plums. In the Autumn they give me sloes, hips and crabapples.  The view encompasses an old Medieval Tithe Barn, a working farm, and as much as any human eye can take in, it being the Fens. Sometimes the landscape is more Kansas than Cambridge. I watch flocks of crows, seagulls, and the odd Red Kite circle round the fields. There's a pair of Barn Owls in the barn, as there should be. I've seen hares, rabbits, lots of voles and mice, and an abundance of wild flowers that love the drainage ditches, lillies, marsh plants and marginals. We use the field edges to walk to the park, so much nicer than going roadways, and to ramble, daily, insect spotting. Son makes believe he is "off roading" on a Honda, daughter is in a jungle. Horses thunder by the end of the garden, people stop off the footpath to pick blackberries and chuck weeds at my hens. It is one of a few footpaths in farming country, in a town seriously deproved of green space. (Crazy: so rural, yet so hard up for it: it's the farmers). And it is going, all going, to build the supposedly essential 1,000 new homes. I am incensed, upset, angry, tearful, and worst of all, utterly, utterly hidebound. There is nothing, nothing, I can do. It's done. It's in the Fenland Development plan. The "consultation" on it was a derisory 2 hours of a display board in a community centre, unadvertised, for 2 hours one weekday. The letters to residents were sent out over Christmas, when we were mostly away. I will attend all the meetings I can, and shout as much as I can, but councillor after councillor has told me, "This will happen".

So, it's a case of how it will happen. The plan shows the usual uniform array of toytown houses, crushed into a space which would be reasonable for half the amount of houses, and with the usual exec homes and about 2 housing associations ones chucked in the margins. The green credentials appear to rest on "green corridors" (for which read :pathways that the development corp will soon shuck off responsibility for, and will soon descend to teen fumbling areas). The supposed play area is where the fields flood every year, for 3 months. There are no regulations to stop paving over gardens, the green space is risible, and the risk of run off, in a below sea level area, to my mind, high. Although not according to the planners. This amount of extra houses (and people) gives us, in return, a few shopping units, a redirected bus route, a primary school (no increase in intake to an already overcrowded secondary though), and a vague promise from the developers to donate some money to the town. Added to this, the policing levels are being cut, the Fire service is being cut, the bus service has already been halved, and the GP and school systems are already overloaded. But hey, there will be a ruddy big Tesco out of town.

I have seriously never lived in an area with a worse, more shortsighted, self gratifying council in my life, and this is REALLY saying something, considering I used to live in Hackney. The Councils response so far has mostly been about the increase in council tax money they'll be getting. Which just about says it all. And considering our esteemed leader, Mr Alan Melton, is only just above the level of an amoeba when it comes to doing anything except line his pockets, I was naturally concerned when I saw diggers this week. A lot of diggers. Digging trenches. My first thought was "ARGGGH! Surely the permissions hasn't been granted yet?" and the second was "Where's the archaeology?" This was very important as a second thought, as Mr Melton was widely acclaimed/ laughed at/ spat on last month for his name calling of archaeologists ("Bunny Huggers") and declamation that he would, as leader, do away with all of those silly rules about preserving the rights of archaeologists to dig prior to development.  (I blogged it here) So, I took up my keyboard and phone and did some digging of my own.

And lo, it is a real dig. They are doing the Bunny Hugging digging in my back garden. And whilst I will regret, deeply, the loss of my view and wild places, (although it's not over yet, Melton) I am pleased that it's going ahead properly and we'll get a chance to dig deep on a large plot of , I hope, serious worth. Bronze Age, Iron age, Roman, a 10th Century manor house, and more. I am hoping to interview one of the archaeologists soon about it all. Watch this space for that. And take a look at the pictures of a part of England that is going.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Glut here, lack there.

We are now officially struggling. I'm over my comfort debt threshold (which, truthfully, is 1p in debt, but practically, it means we are 1,500 overdrawn and I fret, I fret). I'm down to the knuckle in terms of what I can spend every week on food, and having to budget in advance for uniform buys and even bus fares. I hate it. A year ago we were flush, I didn't have to think, now I do, every day. I pick away every day at the thought that perhaps I should work too. But I don't want to. Not because I don't *want* to, but because this is son's first year of school, and daughters year of playgroup. I want so much to spend it helping him through it by having tea done for him when gets in, knackered, and shuffling him to bed, happy,through that first year. I know from experience how he chats on the way home from anywhere, and what a kid downlaod time that is. I wouldn't miss it for the world: everything rises up on that long walk home. Who said what, what's bothering him, the lifecycle of earwigs. That's for me, not a childminder, if I can at all help it. And daughter: she never had that one on one time that son had before her noisy arrival. I want this year of time with my daughter before she goes to school, to focus solely on her during the day, to know her a bit more, away from her brother. (This is easier said than done. Being so close, together, they have no need of me and have developed a hive mind). I will cut, cut, cut again to the bone to be at home this year. Not that there are any jobs that suit, anyway.
And to that end, I am foraging and scrimping. The fields at the end of my garden, (soon to be home to 1,000 homes instead of the wheat, Roman remains, Iron age settlements,and wildlife it currently supports) are blessed with loads of blackberries and wild plums,one crabapple, one wild pear, and lots of damson and sloe along the hedgerows. Nobody else seems to pick them, the berries lay heavy on the branch. Just me and kids. It's a true blessing for us, it will furnish us with jam, chutney and soft fruit through the winter, if I get can my vinegar knowledge hat on. This week (and last!) I have collected 10lbs of blackberries, 14 lbs of plums, and 8 dustbin liners of straw leftover after the balers had been and gone. The straw will bed the chickens, the soft fruit has already made 8 pots of plum chutney and 6 bottles of plum ketchup, one blackberry and plum slump, and lots of snacks. However, a dent has not been made. So I intend to make Plum and blackberry chilli chutney, bottle plums and pears, make blackberry wine, and freeze a raft of fruit. The fact remains though, that chutney and preserves will not feed us all Winter, and we will get sick of our runner beans before long. Even the rampant courgettes won't sustain us. I can pot and preserve as much as I like, it won't really help (The chickens must be nervous....) Basically, it is the eighties. I'm poor again, and all I can do is batten down the hatches, love the kids, and hope they don't notice. In a few more months I may be waiting in line at the new Tesco, asking for work. (sob). Or maybe i'll be picketting it. Hope springs.

So, to that end, here's a recipe for spicy plum chutney, which is DELISH with blue cheese and a cracker. This should be made, and left for 4 weeks, or up to 2 years before eating. It's gorgeous, and not at all plummy. It's what I want and hope my kids will be: a lovely fruity, diverse thing born out of adversity.
1.5kg plums, stoned and quartered or more, depending on size
Handful blackberries
6 shallots, finely chopped
700g dried fruit (I used dried apricots and sultanas)
600g sugar (I used half jam making sugar and half brown)
500ml vinegar (I used cider vinegar, but rice vinegar is also nice)
1 lemon, sliced into 8 slices, then finely chopped. (This adds pectin)
And the spices:
4 sliced cloves garlic
Thumb sized piece of ginger, chopped
Some people stop here, but I also added:
10 black peppecorns
7 juniper berries
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon salt
3 black cardamons, whole (remove after cooking)
2 sticks lemongrass, bashed (remove after cooking)
6 birdseye red chillies, in muslin, whole (remove after cooking)
You can add or subtract spices as you like, I like a fairly hot chutney, and the black cardamons are my secret ingredient, they add a smoky touch to the end product, being quite unlike the green.I'm cooking up a batch as we speak (pictured, top), that has more blackberries, less plums, and star anise in.

Basically, add all the ingredients, bring to boil, then simmer for about 4-5 hours, until you have a nice thick, reduced mixture that parts like the red sea when you draw a spoon across the bottom of the pan. Then cool slightly before pouring into warmed jars (I bake my jars at gas 3 for 10 minutes to sterilise), and sealing. Put them in a dark cupboard and forget about them for 4 weeks, then distribute and eat. I can't tell you how much this makes as I used a hodge podge of old jars, it made 2 large and 4 small the last two times though! Never underestimate how much chutney reduces. I urge you to try your hand at chutney. Nicer than jam, and more useful to the late night snacker. It makes cheese on toast a grand meal.  (The picture, right, shows Plum chilli chutney, Plum ketchup, and plum and ginger chutney, and the brownish round fluff you can see at the far left is a hens' arse.)

Saturday, 9 July 2011

I skipped sports day, and i'm glad

Son is in the midst of preparing for Big School. This means that on his playgroup mornings, he gets taken over to roam the school library, and chat to his new teacher-to-be, to prove she is not a monster. He has been refreshingly blase about his, even to the point of grumbling that the library doesn't have a motorbike encyclopaedia, or even a Hayes manual of a Kawasaki Ninja *sigh*, but one thing he came home completely perplexed about was Sports Day. Well meaning playgroup ladies took the rising receptions over to watch the various children pelt about in the heat, drop eggs from a spoon and mostly, lose. After witnessing this Olympics of Fenland, his only response was that there were too many people running. To his mind, competition only really exists when it's against a sibling. Why run against others when there is no sibling to cry at losing? If you want to practise best, fast running, you can do that alone. You don't need to do it in a  field and maybe lose.
I was, needless to say, hopelessly crap at running. All kinds. Sprinting was out because my overdeveloped chest necessitated more sports bra than Marks and Spencers in the 80's had yet envisioned, plus I couldn't run. Cross Country would have been better if the aptly named "Miss Quick" had not sent us out in navy blue pants to run through snow laden fields, while she followed on the roads as best she could, clad in a puffa jacket, on a moped. Hockey was cold legs being beaten with a stick. Shot putt, I won the acclamation of everyone. Nobody had ever seen a girl throw the bloody thing upright, and then stand still as it descended, to fall on her head and concuss her. Still, I got to sit the rest of sports day out with the ambulance people. High jump is hilarious when you are 5 foot. Long jump is just a run into a cat litter tray. I could swim, for ages, but not properly (how can this be? Swimming teacher after swimming teacher would moan at me. I got my badge for swimming a mile, 2 miles. But apparently it was still wrong because I stuck my head up too much. It was the EIGHTIES. I had a FRINGE!) Tennis, Badminton, rubbish. Javelin, they didn't let me near. Rounders? Yes, please. I'll be fielder. I'll go and have a fag. Netball? Nah.  The apogee of my sporting prowess at school came aged 5, when, annoyed by Mrs Lines attempts to get me into my leotard, which was itchy and entirely flammable, I ran, nude, out of the changing room and ran my entire first sports day in the nude, leaving them with nowhere to pin the red ribbon for coming first in the roly-poly race. It is the only race I have ever won, and all it earnt me was a ribbon and a smacked arse from an angry mother. Sports at school was laothsome, dreadful, angst ridden crap more about the ones would could catch/throw/leap with their eyes shut lording it over the ones who couldn't, especially if they were pudgy academics (like me), than any sense of real sportsmanship.
Was I therefore an obese monster? No. I did sport, I just did the ones I liked. I biked 6 miles a day, 4 times a day, to muck out a horse and ride it, twice a day, before and after school. On my weekends, I 3 day evented. I did pretty well. I enjoyed it, I was actually pretty fit. What did I get for PE? E's, F's. PE at school is about as useful as a Tory Minister at a morality lecture. It sucks. It does nothing for teamwork, nothing for self esteem, and nothing for the kids who are not any good at it. Of course, there's the argument that everyone needs to learn how to lose, but really, did I need to learn to lose 4 periods a week, for all those years? In the end I bunked every lesson and sneaked into the library instead. Now, I am not saying that sport is not a great and wonderful thing , if you are good at it. I look on in awe at son as he catches balls and leaps from branch to branch with a sure limbed dexterity that I have never had. He is naturally quick, agile, and co-ordinated. Is he mine? He will have a ball, literally. He can already tackle me to the ground. This is the boy that I lectured for 35 minutes about how the first time he rode his bike without stabilisers, he might fall, but he must get back up and try again, only to see him cycle off and within 20 minutes start kicking wheelies. How is he of my loins? Daughter, on the other hand, is mine. She still sits down to come down stairs. She cannot catch, run straight, or jump properly, and neither does she care. Yet. Because by Year 7, she will. She will be (although I plead no, no) the last to be picked. The team captain will sigh as they begrudgingly say her name, the last option against the kid in callipers. That was me. It was beyond crappy.

And this is why I applaud the school in somewhere or other that made the Daily Mail on Thursday for telling it's kids that sports day was optional. Of course, the Daily Mail are spitting bits of Empire about it, but hey, it's a damn good idea, as far as i'm concerned. Why not let the kids who couldn't give a stuff about running do something else? Running isn't a vital life skill, like reading, or adding. Bullying people into it doesn't make it fun. Lord alone knows I had to do enough bullying into it myself, as form tutor. In year 7, it went like this:
me: "Who wants to run the 100/200/400/800/ etc etc?"
Kids: "Me! Me! Me! Miss, me!"
By year 9, it was like this.
Me: "Who wants to run the 100 metres? Anyone? Come on?"
Kids: "      "
And how I laughed as I tried to get them to run the 800m. In the end I had to bribe them and threaten them. How did this happen? Through a mixture of PE and hormones.The ones that were good at PE enjoyed it. The ones that were not, didn't. Plus, they had to contend with bits bulging, skin erupting, classmates taunting and, for girls, the hideous clipboard with monthly information recorded. What actually was there to like about PE if you didn't excel at it? And yet, the girls in my form who hated PE were almsot universally members of the street dance club, which met to thunder it's way round my classroom and never put the desks back properly every lunchtime. I had one form tutee who was a whiz at golf, another who was excellent at bowling. None of these are offered at school.  PE doesn't have to be about winning and losing and humiliation. It can and should be about doing something you enjoy, in small groups, or large. It doesn't have to be competative to be useful in building team skills. It's only the winners who insist that competition is best.

So, if your kid is wetting the bed pre-sports day, and throwing a tin of Scotch Broth down the loo pretending they've been sick (yes, that was me: the giveaway was the Scotch Broth smelt far worse than actual sick), then let 'em off. Write them a sick note. Do some sport they like instead, with them.

*Alert* Lady from Wimblington: I lost your mail and now cannot find your blog. Please send it to me again!

Saturday, 2 July 2011

A risky kid is a happy kid.

I cannot watch Michael Gove on television because a) he has a mouth like a cat's bum and b) everything that comes out of it is unmitigated shit that makes me want to destroy my television. Neither can I listen to him on the radio, as even though I can't actually see him, I can still hear him doing his posh spitty boy talking and spouting errant nonsense that he dresses up as policy. The newspapers are usually safe, although they do enjoy printing huge headshots of the man that make him look like Matt Smiths' newest nemesis. So it was, that perusing the Guardians Education section this morning, I came across this article about Health and Safety in schools. And this, on the BBC. And now I find myself in a quandry. Because despite, with every fibre of my being detesting the odious little man, I am in agreement with him here. Oh god, I had to hairball that sentence out.

It is very true that the Health and Safety requirements for basic school trips are disproportionate. On taking 10 students from the History club to an underground nuclear bunker (helpfully signposted "secret nuclear bunker" to help us find it), I well remember the sheaves of paperwork and tedious write ups that allowed us to take them on a mini-bus and explore a site that was preparing for the end of the human world. The hideous room that showed them the exactly how the government was calculating deaths from nuclear war, suicide tablets, and the entrance corridor that turned a corner so as to enable the hoardes of ordinary folk who didn't want to die and were invading, to be mown down by government forces, may have given them nightmares, and in fact made one of them quite panicky. But really, walking round a museum (albeit an underground one) is not a high risk activity. Children who go to History club (aka "geek club") are pretty much risk averse and more into re-enacting the telemark skiers with little play men and dice than taking risks. It really would have made life easier if I could just have written their names down on an excursion list and driven off. 

On the other hand, one field trip that found me standing neck high in flowing, freezing water trying to measure how quickly the floating orange came past me was certainly less fun, and more risky. In the first instance, taking a bus load of year 11's to the Norfolk coast in February is going to be problematic. Not only had manay of them never seen a beach and hence, went crazy ("No! Come back! The water is cold! And the locals have never seen a bunch of youths of many hues running amok!"), but much of it was genuinely risky. Wading rivers, climbing, and measuring wave force in freezing water was pretty horrible, and did need those forms. A useful form would also have been one that covered the teacher for lapse in duty due to lack of sleep, as the whole 4 days saw about 2 hours of rest for me, and much standing sentry between dorms, shouting and being stern. So yes, in some instances, the fuss is necessary, and it would be a good thing to allow common sense to triumph. Provided that the schools are not then going to be sued to buggery by angry parents if anything does go wrong. I notice that Gove has made no comments to this effect.

I also think it's part of a wider issue. We do cocoon our children. And whilst it's perfectly easy for me to go all nostalgia: Spangles, out till tea, no mobiles, etc etc, it's also true to say that the world is different now. I was allowed out all day alone from an early age, with the company of the dog and some sandwiches, but this was less to do with the world being safer, and more to do with the attitude of my parents and the media. There is no more child centered crime than there has ever been, but there is more reporting. I dare say that there are fewer accidents now. No longer do we have those eerie ads telling us not to swim in quarries, or climb up electricity pylons to get a frisbee, because far fewer kids are roaming around free with a couple of soggy sarnies in a bag, a frisbee, and a dog, like I was. Out of my window at the moment, I can see some 11 plus kids on bikes on the grass, and their parents in the front gardens. I can't see any kids wandering through the corn fields at the back of the gardens, which I certainly would have been at their age. I see few children under 11 out front. I see fewer kids at the park, and more walking around plugged into those annoying beepy nintendos. At 4. I see a lot of parents with medicated hand gels, a lot who drive rather than walk, a lot who panic. And this is why a little risk is necessary.

I remember panicking when, at nearly term with daughter, I coudln't move quickly enough to get to the big slide, as son, then 14 months, was teetering at the edge. He was fine. It was a turning point. As soon as daughter arrived, the sterilising that sons' implements had undergone was abandoned. Daughter scavenged for his scraps, stuffing whole carrot sticks that had been on the floor into her gummy mouth. I called it baby-led weaning. I let him climb as high as he dared. One mother remonstrated with me for allowing him a knife, a real one, at 18 months. He was fine. How sharp is a cutlery knife anyway? Take a breath. Yes, I covered the plug sockets, but I didn't clamp down the cupboards. I encouraged him to use the stairs. He ate bugs, worms, caterpillars, and once, something unidentifiable from behind the radiator. Sometimes both of them go to bed dirty. They kiss the chickens and cart them about. They play out front and on the paths. They made a den in the ditch at the end of the garden. At the park, they plunge off of the top of climbing frames, and use slides and swings in ways they were not intended to be used.  And all this is good. Risk assessment is a valuable life skill in a child. So is determination and bloodymindedness. I have casually shouted "Just get up" across a park, to horrified stares, and seen daughter just climb up again. I've turned round to see son balancing, one footed, on his bike saddle. I've not stopped him. A bump is sometimes worth it. (And, i've noticed, a  bump is always worse with an audience..... alone, daughter can plummet from the slide and get up and climb again. If she sees you watching her plummet, it's a Bette Davis death scene.)

So yes, introduce a bit more risk. Let students set potassium going. Let kids go kayaking without the teacher having to fill in 50 pages of pointless crap. But also, make risk play more available. Don't close footpaths in favour of farmers (endemic in Fenland). Make more footpaths. Build more parks (and no, a "park" is not a small, fenced in area with two baby swings and a slide I could step over). Build parks with wild spaces, with trees, with dens, and ropes. Build climbing frames, balance games. Make some places wild. Give kids places to go where they can be risky. Skate parks, ramps, bike tracks. When you build housing estates, build in green space. When you have empty town centre buildings, make a youth club. Give organisations that allow youth to explore, the space, time and money, to do it. Make roads safer. Introduce better local speed limits, so kids can bike. Make bike lanes, run road safety courses. Ah, I see. All these things, the parks, the adventure playgrounds, the clubs, these are the things that are gone, or going. These are the things the Councils have been given carte blanche to cut. The playing fields are sold. The youth clubs all gone. Parks? In some areas now you have to pay, others, they are gone, too much maintenence. Or the land is worth more.  I have been bamboozled. Briefly, I thought I may agree with Gove. But now I see that it's a sop. Bigging up risk at school, because all the facilities for risk out of school, have gone, or are going. He almost had me there.

For locals: If you have noticed any loss of upkeep in your park, please contact me.

Friday, 1 July 2011

A rabbit stew, archaeology and Melton

Disclaimer: I am not, and have never been an archaeologist, although I did have a boyfriend as one once and spent a weekend at Sutton Hoo with him in the rain, as the archaeologist fiercely guarded their marmite rations, being glad I wasn't an archaeologist,before trashing my car on the way home. What follows is a personal, not professional, opinion about what a total dickwad the leader of Fenland Council is. Also, after typing "archaeology" a lot of times, my fingers hurt and I forget how to spell it. This is why I studied History instead.

You may not have come across Alan Melton. You may have missed out on the furore of last week, as Alan Melton, he of the portly jowls and job of top dog Councillor of Fenland, described archaeologist as "bunny huggers", and declaimed that he would rip up the planning regulations of Fenland, making the legal requirement to allow archaeologist access a thing of the past. He gave this speech (full text here) to a bunch of developers and builders at an awards ceremony. The whole thing is worth a read, if you enjoy pompous self congratulatory paragraphs that read like a bad AS level essay, but the salient points that were picked up by the press, and lots of other very angry people were (excerpt)

"Unemployment and state dependency could be greatly reduced if the construction industry is allowed to grow. GDP would start to improve significantly, and tax revenues would increase.
This is the message we in local government will be taking to the Local Government Conference later this month and to the Conservative Party Conference in October.
Of course, there are some local changes that we can make to make development easier. We are constantly reviewing our procedures.
I can announce tonight, that from the 1st July. A requirement for an archaeological dig/survey will not be required. The requirement will no longer feature at pre-app. Or form part of the committee agenda.
With one exception, in local known historical areas, such as next to a 1000 year old church.
The bunny huggers won’t like this, but if they wish to inspect a site, they can do it when the footings are being dug out"

So, let's see. He says, quite clearly, in a statement of intent, to a bunch of developers and builders, that they won't need to bother about pesky old bunny hugging bearded archaeologists trying to dig trenches where they want to throw up paper thin walled houses with a garden that a umbrella won't open up in. From July 1st. It's quite clear, isn't it?  He then goes onto say that......

"Of course we shall seek to be sustainable and practical, but we won’t dwell too much on the scriptures of the new religion.
I don’t believe that polar bears will be floating down the Nene in my life time or indeed my children’s.
I think we all need more convincing about some of the conflicting stories that are constantly peddled.
And as a bricklayer by trade, I regret the constant use of timber on our public buildings, and although it looks good when initially fitted, (and ticks a box),
Within 12 months looks as if it needs a coat of creosote.
DAB’s as we know them will be a thing of the past; we will be flexible, particularly around our smaller settlements, where we shall encourage organic growth."

So, on top of not bothering about any old Iron Age roundhouses that have the temerity to be lying underneath the newly planned Melton Close, global warming is all so much codswallop (Er, Alan? We live in the FENS. Like, below sea level? Do you want to rethink that statement? Hands up we're all stood behind Alan when the sea level rises! We can use him as a raft! He's quite big enough), and the DAB's (development area boundaries: they stop people from building wherever they like and are particularly important in smaller areas such as villages) are to be swept away on a tide of organic growth, presuming the river Nene doesn't rise first, as Alan says it won't anyway. "Organic". Wonder what that means. Maybe, willy nilly? Whoever wants to shuck up a big house? Wherever? Details, Alan, details.

And did you notice the clue there? Yes, Alan is a bricklayer! Although he's being disingenous here. He's a big schnozzle in the building trade. He has his own building company. He has interests in development and aggregates. How strange then, that he should want to sweep away any contraints on planning. Oh, no. Wait a goddarned minute........I've been had! Is it the tiniest bit possible that Alan isn't that arsed about my interests, or those of Fenland? Hmmm, let me think.

So, cue a flurry of angry archaeologists, a mention in the broadsheets, and a radio interview, a facebook page, me on the local Shape your Place, 32 leading archaeologists all pointing out that Alan would be breaking the law, Alan countering that it's only European law anyway, and blathering on about Eric Pickles, before someone, and Eric Pickles, quite clearly told him to shut up, before writing this speech for him. It's been written by someone who can put together a decent sentence, and is a sort of "sorry", if you call raising your hands up and saying "Well, I only meant to cause a debate, and anyway, those archaeologists said I was fat" an apology.It's the sort of apology I get from my 4 year old, before he is sent to his room again. Why Sir, you must think me an idiot, because your first speech showed clear intent and did not mention the word "debate" at all! Maybe where you said there would be no need to have any archaeologists after July 1st, a little demon was in your mouth and garbled up all your words, because you were REALLY saying, "gosh, those archaeologists chaps, I could really sit down and have a discussion with them."

It would have been better if he had. Because, as any fule kno, digging on a site does not "hold up" development any more than the person drawing the plans for the houses "holds up" development. It is part of the process, simple as that and is taken into account when developing. It's simply that some people would rather not do it. They'd rather whack up houses quick march and don't want the risk of finding a site underneath them. And, fair play, it might well be a risk. Why? Because the Fens are unique, chock full of pre-history sites that are nowhere else in the UK. The water preserves with remarkable clarity the earliest of sites. Take here, Must Farm at Whittlesey. Described as a "Pompeii" of the Bronze age, a routine dig before the area was quarried revealed finds that make up one of the biggest Bronze Age hoardes ever found. But hey, it held up the quarry! Damn those Bronze agers! It's even more important that digs take place in Fenland than ever, as since the last archaeological survey was completed in the late 80's, a huge number of sites have vanished, been ploughed and harried away. The nature of the black peat and the fertile soil of the fens means they are intensively farmed, and precedence is given to farmers, not sites. Hence, the sites on farmland are vanishing. The sites in developed areas are perhaps the only ones that we can get a good look at.

I don't know of anyone who would begrudge a dig that could enrich our knowledge of the area. No-one apart from Alan. And the rest of Fenland Council, who must have given the nod to the original speech and then had the sheer stupidity not to realise that information is viral now. Alan, even in the Fens people can use that nettyinter, and root out what their councillors are actually saying. The Council are evidently standing by him and hoping it will all blow over. It has before. Alan's a bit of a lad, thrown out once before for accepting gifts and then blurting info that was meant to be private out to the papers. And they let him back. So to my mind, both Alan and the Council are equally culpable. Oh, and the idiots that voted him in again. Possibly they are the voters with big plots waiting to be developed. Well, there's a weather eye on you now.