Paul Rabbitts MLA FRSA 

Author, Parks Historian, Public Speaker

The Abuse of Parks is the Abuse of Society

I have sat for long enough and read the reports, seen the pictures, headlines, tweets, Facebook updates and had conversations with my own team and colleagues. I have spoken at length with colleagues across the country who are managing parks in Manchester, Nottingham, Rugby, Salford, Merseyside, Bournemouth, Newcastle, in fact UK wide. Litter, mountains of the stuff, tonnes of it being dropped and dumped in our parks and green spaces. In Rugby's parks, there are 10 tonnes of extra litter being removed from their parks per day. Similar in Salford's Parks where tonnes of rubbish have almost double compared to last year. We see reports of people 'shitting' in McDonald's Burger boxes and leaving then in parks and on beaches for council staff to remove. Thousand's of gas canisters of Nitrous Oxide appearing in parks and left and these are not even illegal. Reports that the Met Police can no longer control our streets, let alone parks. So is this a symptom just of coming out of lockdown? Is it a change in societal behaviour? Is it partly a result of austerity? few police officers and parks staff? Or that pubs and clubs, bars, cinemas are all still closed? What makes a human being think it is acceptable to take a dump in a McDonald's throwaway big mac box and leave it for some poor soul to remove? Matthew Wright on TV called them 'pigs' and was condemned by many for saying such a thing. But pigs would not even behave like this. They are worse than pigs. It is feral behaviour with no limits. These people do not care. We have seen ugly scenes on our streets as part of Black Lives Matters protests, rioting, vandalism, spitting at police officers. Parks staff have been spat at and abused. 

I took a call from a Guardian reporter today who was doing a feature on litter in parks and wanted my views as Chair of the Parks Management Forum. Chaos, its chaos out there, and parks teams are struggling to cope with it after years of austerity and parks maintenance budgets stripped to the bone. Many proffer solutions: better signage, CCTV, Fixed Penalty Notices, Council's need to do a better job (Please really???), the police need to take action, more bins. So why are we experiencing such behaviour and what is the answer? We live in a society that is now largely divisive, confrontational, with leaders that have spouted bile and hatred, from Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn, Donald Trump, stirring up society, pulling communities apart. If we don't respect our leaders, then we become dysfunctional, out of control, without any boundaries as to what is acceptable. Bad behaviour breeds bad behaviour. And behaviour has been shocking, at times disgusting. Society is protected by our public services and public services have been stripped bare. Local Authorities, already struggling now have to cope with the aftermath of Covid-19. We rely on our public services for our basic needs - healthcare, safety, protection, wellbeing, cleanliness, housing, social care to providing recreational facilities that support all these. Yet these have been decimated so when we start to lose control, the spiral of decline increases. So the answers?

  • We need to focus on communities, and communities need a robust public sector to support and engage with them. Public services are the fabric of our society;
  • We need strong leadership at all levels - in our communities, in our Town Halls, in our Government, in our schools and colleges and examples of strong leadership must be at the highest level - New Zealand  anyone? Jacinda is an inspiration. 
  • We need to set examples, and we need to make sure there is a deterrent for such behaviour, stiff fines for littering, and I mean stiff, and we need law enforcement that can deliver such deterrents. 
  • We need to focus on the things that matter, our health, our wellbeing, our communities and start relying on people power rather than accepting the bad behaviour of others as acceptable because it isn't. This has to come from Government. 
  • We need to fix society and it has to come from within and we need to do it now. 

This is no easy fix in the current climate, but we can certainly start with strong leadership and setting better examples for all. 


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Why Parks Matter...

In 2016, I published ‘Great British Parks: A Celebration’ which very much started out as a straightforward celebration of Great British Parks which was followed in 2017 by ‘Parkitecture – Buildings and Monuments of Public Parks’. Both books recognised the value of one of our finest institutions – the public park. I have worked in parks for over 30 years, managing, developing, improving and restoring them. They are my passion. With the current pandemic affecting us globally, there has been an incredible resurgence in the value of public parks, with politicians spouting walks in your local park, fresh air as being good for us, provided we socially distance ourselves (naturally) and the nation has embraced them once again. Government has ordered councils to keep parks open, allowing opportunities for exercise, and the value they are to our health and well-being. Wellness is now oft quoted. Walks in my local park here in Leighton Buzzard have seen more people out walking, running, playing frisbee, children on bikes, and this is despite the play area being closed and the gyms out of action. So are we valuing parks once again? We need to look back at history first as to when we acquired these wonderful public utilities, open to all, yet over the decades have been much maligned, neglected, abused, restored and then once again neglected. We need to break the boom, bust, boom, bust cycle and once and for all, value our parks and green spaces like never before. And it is never so relevant than this week – World Parks Week.


Parks were born out of the need to improve the quality of people’s lives as the Industrial Revolution took its hold. 100 years later, this was sadly abandoned as we embraced ‘the cost of providing’ rather than the ‘benefits (note the plural) of providing’, only to rediscover this by the end of the twentieth century. Thanks to successive studies and reports, surveys, analysis, continued lobbying, many parks have been rescued from virtual obscurity, primarily funded by the National Lottery, including the wonderful Avenham & Miller parks in Preston; Birkenhead Park on the Wirrall; Victoria Park, London; Heaton Park, Manchester; Leazes Park, Newcastle; Abbey Park, Leicester and many many more. The figure from the National Lottery Heritage Fund now exceeds £1 billion allocated to rescuing our most important public parks. The irony is perhaps wrapped up in history itself – history tells us that parks are good for us. So is this lottery funded parks renaissance really over? In 2014, the Heritage Lottery Fund published a report on the condition of parks in the UK called ‘State of UK Public Parks - Research Report to the Heritage Lottery Fund June 2014’ and was followed up by a similar report in 2016. The picture was bleak and none more so apparent with the fate of many parks, being sold off, developed, features being closed such as in Ryelands Park in Lancaster, with the ultimate destruction of its iconic bandstand in June 2017.

Way back in in 2006 CABE Space highlighted the challenge was to ensure the ‘long-term sustainability of these improvements in the conditions of urban green spaces across the country. In many cases, this required the identification of alternative sources of revenue and capital funding’. Yet funding for public parks and urban green spaces was significantly reduced between 1979 and 2000, losing an estimated £1.3 billion in total. A timely report published in January 2013 by the International Federation of Parks and Recreation Administration (Ifpra) concluded that there is evidence for a range of benefits of urban parks and that there is sound scientific evidence that parks contribute to human and social wellbeing (wellness?). Specifically, urban planners should focus on high quality parks in such areas, where the case is currently that parks are scarce and poorly maintained. Given the strong evidence for parks as promoting physical activity and reducing obesity (parkruns are surely the best example of this), more thoughts should be given to how parks are planned and established with good opportunities and amenities for exerting varied kinds of physical activity, such as walking and biking (exactly what politicians are telling us to do today but it takes a global pandemic for them to get this!). In 2014, Dr Katy Layton-Jones published her final report for English Heritage on Urban Parks, Designed Landscapes and Open Spaces. It referred to the remission of the period of decline for Britain’s parks as a result of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Urban Parks Programme and its successor the ‘Parks for People’ scheme. But it warns of an uncertain future in terms not only of funding and maintenance, but also of ownership, and in some cases, existence. The economic crisis of 2007 marked a change in mood and expectation among many green space professionals. In the 2010-11 financial year, local authorities were forced to implement significant savings. Local authority budget cuts (average 28 per cent over a three-year period, and in some cases up to 90%), brought an abrupt halt to many ambitions for significant capital investment in public green space across the country. The requirement to demonstrate financial sustainability still places considerable economic pressure on local authorities. It is getting worse. Local authorities no longer have any funding from central government since the withdrawal of the annual Revenue Support Grant. Basically, it’s now up to councils to foot all the bills.


So the future of UK public parks in 2016 was at a crossroads and today, 2020, it now faces an even greater challenge with future austerity and a deep recession looming. ‘The State of UK Public Parks 2014 - Renaissance to risk’ and its follow up in 2016 perhaps gave the clearest picture. They reported that maintenance budgets were being reduced, capital was less available for improvements, park facilities were becoming more expensive to use, management and maintenance skills were being lost, and some parks and green spaces were being sold or transferred to others to maintain. This is despite over 2.6 billion estimated visits made to the UK’s parks each year. Over 70% of park managers have recorded increased visitor numbers to their principal parks between 2013-14. Yet 86% of park managers report cuts to revenue budgets since 2010 and they expect the trend to continue for the next few years and beyond. Just as worrying is that 71% of households with children under 10 years of age are concerned that reductions in council budgets could have a negative impact on the condition of their local park. This is already having an impact with a number of local authorities who have already seen the positive result of ‘one-off’ lottery investments, struggling to sustain the quality of the once restored landscape. The picture becomes even more bleak.


Great Britain has been a nation of park builders since the advent of the Industrial Revolution. J.C. Loudon writing in the Gardener’s Magazine in 1829, campaigned for public parks as ‘Breathing Places’ for towns and cities. 176 years later, The Times (13/11/15) reports that ‘its mad to let Britain’s glorious heritage of urban parks disappear’. Speaking at the Paxton 150 conference in 2015, parks historian David Lambert echoed this. ‘What Paxton and his fellow Victorians thought was bleedin’ obvious – that the health, social and recreational benefits of parks far outweigh the costs of maintaining them. Three words that sum up the absolute value of parks and green spaces – health, social and recreational. The Covid19 pandemic has demonstrated the value of parks to us all. For those of us that have been the guardian of them for decades, we know this, and the great British public know this. Local authorities and the few park managers that remain over the last 20 years have been innovative, creative, dogmatic and pragmatic when it comes to their parks and green spaces. But there is now one lesson that government must recognize – parks matter, no matter what. We know there is a recession coming and times will be hard, but if there is one institution that matters and has positive benefits on everybody, it is the local park. Perhaps now is the time to cease the constant boom bust cycle we have tolerated since the Victorians gave us these social assets. Ruskin has been quoted countless times, but there is no better conclusion in my view that:-

‘The measure of any great civilization is in its cities, and the measure of a city's greatness is to be found in the quality of its public spaces, its parks and squares’. Or perhaps the more recent quote from David Lambert above, that it’s ‘bleedin’ obvious’. “


Paul Rabbitts FRSA FLI

Head of Parks, Heritage & Culture

Watford Borough Council 

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A common potato.....??

Posted on June 12, 2016 at 5:20 PM Comments comments (16)

In the last 12-18 months, I don't think I have seen so much in the media, online and on social media and so many people commentating on such wide and major issues. There does seem to be a rise in worldwide issues that I must admit, make it a challenging and dangerous world we now live in.

Leave or Remain Campaign

Every day we hear reasons why to leave or why to remain. I have no intention of giving any reasons for either because I simply don't know and not sure which way to vote yet. One thing for sure, if we leave, there will be ramifications at government level, but I am bored stiff with it. I don't care what Boris, Gove, Dyson or Hawking think - no one agrees and the reporting in the media has left people only confused and probably bored. ( Whilst writing this - a BBC Referendum special has popped up!)

Donald Trump

This really does worry me. Are the American's that dim to vote Trump in? I know we had George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan but surely Trump in the White House. At least we realised Farage was a cretinous moron and got shot. Lets hope our yankee dudes do the same. But worrying. 

Football hooliganism

I was so looking forward to the Euro Championships but the sights we have seen are sickening. The rest of Europe probably want us out of the EU now. Life in North Korea actually looks appealing when you see the mayhem and riots in France. Perhaps if we had the courage to actually take out a few of the low life scum with a couple of well placed shots on the perpetrators, they would soon dispel or think twice. 

Immigration

This country was built on immigration, the British Empire was built on people moving freely across the world as were other empires. History gives many examples of immigration. But we see immigrants, migrants and refugees - all different. Again, I do not have a specific view, but am a regular visitor to London, one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world and its what makes the city....not what we see in EastEnders. Reading a bit about Ukraine today and gay rights - they have none - and watching Ukraine tonight vs Germany - no black players on their team or on the Russian Team. 

BHS

Disgusting and corporate greed at its worst. Having said that, BHS have never modernised, dated and untrendy and unfashionable. But how oh how Dominic Chappell managed to buy it as a bankrupt. How easy would it be for me to get a bank loan or mortgage with a previous bankruptcy but he can buy BHS for a quid. 

Terrorism 

The IRA, Basque separists ETA, Al Quaeda and now ISIS... they come and they go as history tells us. But they taint history and will be remembered in history but that is what they all become - simply history and civilisation will always continue. 

Top Gear

I won't watch it anymore. Clarkson was a cock, Chris Evans is a cock. 

 Axl Rose joining AC/DC

A good decision? I was one of the many who felt the mighty DC should have stopped once Jonno and Malcolm could no longer continue, but I have not seen a single bad review since Axl joined for the last few gigs and YouTube shows some great gigs. 

In conclusion

Lots of common potatos out there. Mostly I don't care. I don't trust politicians, I don't trust the media, everyone has a view but all I want to know is will Axl Rose record with AC/DC?? Probably not. I am off to bed with my Daily Mail and Radio 4 and my visa application to North Korea. 



The ingredients of a great park?

Posted on May 9, 2016 at 4:30 PM Comments comments (180)

A blog that emanates from a great meeting with Historic England today in Swindon, and with their Head of Publishing. Why? Unlike many history publishers, Historic England are not prolific but seem to concentrate on quality, somewhat more academic but cover such great subjects such as Turkish Baths, Breweries, Cinemas and Seaside architecture. Its diverse and they are keen to widen their portfolio on parks hence the new book on the social history of the bandstand. 

But the discussion widened when chatting about the ingredients of a park and work that has been done on related subjects:-

  • Lidos and outdoor swimming pools - once a common feature in many of our public parks, most having disappeared but some still present in parks and in a few odd cases, restored. Having seen Brockwell Lido 2 weeks ago, I was taken aback by its popularity and its design. A lovely book available here called Liquid Assets - The Lidos and Open Air Swimming Pools of Britain by Janet Smith. 
  • Bowling Greens - who would have thought that the bowling greens would have a distinct history of their own. Again a great book and piece of work Bowled Over - the Bowling Greens of Britain - a book available here by Hugh Hornby. 
So what is missing? Clearly a more autoritative book on bandstands, which led to a discussion on "parkitechture" - gates, railings, fountains, glass houses, aviaries, buildings, lakes, refreshment rooms, statues and monuments. A book was done on the Buildings and Monuments of the Royal Parks but good luck if you can find it. 
So the purpose of this rambling blog? After the meeting I went to have a look at the Town Gardens in Swindon, and despite its need of investment, one of the loveliest parks I have seen with.... a bandstand, ornate park gates, fountain, statues, ornamental bridge, sunken garden, aviary, bowling green, amphitheatre and was simply beautiful. It was a perfect example of "parkitechture". Book No 10 now in gestation. 

The bandstand

Statue of? not sure but lovely

Main entrance 


The currently closed bridge 

Gates looking derelict but wonderful design

The amphitheatre

Fountain and pond

Parks as evolving landscapes

Posted on April 28, 2016 at 3:10 PM Comments comments (177)

Interesting times in the world of parks, as always, and lots of views on the park run blog which I posted on Facebook. It certainly raised the profile of parks so clearly nothing like a bit of controversy to raise the ante. 

It led me to think about how parks have evolved over the last 150 years and the introductions, losses, changes, re-introductions there has been in these great landscapes. From the earliest parks such as Sefton Park, Victoria Park, Derby Arboretum and Birkenhead Park, there were no sports facilities in their earliest iterations and they were introduced over time. This was the same with the noble bandstand. Children's play areas (or gymnasiums) at the turn of the century, then cafes, paddling pools, Lidos, sports pavilions were all added. In other words, they have constantly evolved to suit changing times and tastes, and usually within the structure of an existing landscape. Of course in the 60s and 70s we went astray and much rubbish was introduced and fine features lost. Much of this has since been corrected as a result of the lottery. But its a struggle. Why? Getting local communities to buy into change is a challenge itself. This week has enforced my view that while we might see an opportunity to improve, a local community may not get this at all. In Watford, we are introducing a brand new hub building that is a challenge to fit into a very historic landscape. One of the friends I spoke to this week said she still had mixed views about it but had enough faith we had considered this well enough. It a brave decision as it is a modern and contemporary building. On the other hand, at another location, on a redundant playing field, we are looking to introduce a new skate park, BMX facility and cycle hub / cafe. A number of users are distinctly unhappy as they see it as a loss of open space and a place to let dogs run free. To ensure we get it right, its important to look at history and learn from mistakes and to be inspired by successes elsewhere. Parks have evolved and they continue to evolve. Today we have outdoor gyms, skateparks, community hubs, 3G pitches, adventure playgrounds, large scale events and provided they respect the landscape and are done well, then parks need to continue to evolve to ensure their long term survival. Trips to Stoke and Derby this week emphasised this whilst looking at BMX tracks and skate parks in some great parks. 

Park managers need to be innovative, bold, challenging, respectful and above all, ensure we learn from past mistakes but be inspired by what we see around us.... when its done well. 

Alvaston Park BMX Track in Derby

Minet Park Cycle Hub - Hillingdon

Finsbury Park, London

Chiswick Gardens cafe 

Paying for parks?

Posted on April 13, 2016 at 4:30 PM Comments comments (180)

There has been much in the news this last few days about a Parish Council in Bristol who have taken the decision to charge for their weekly park run. Check out this link. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/the-running-blog/2016/apr/13/why-charging-for-parkrun-is-a-terrible-idea

So is this a good idea? Is it the thin end of the wedge? Are Central government cuts now so severe that local authorities are considering charging you for even taking a run in your local park at 9-00am on a Saturday morning? Now don't get me wrong but parks do cost, they are not cheap to maintain and they require ongoing investment. We know that millions of pounds have been cut from parks budgets since what seems to be the beginning of time, but lets consider what parks were conceived for? The health and wellbeing of local people, a rational recreation, places to breathe, places for wildlife, for active or indeed passive recreation, for fresh air, escapism, to walk and promenade, to meet and to play, to excercise and to socialise. Fads have come and gone and come again; we nearly lost many of our most important parks in the 70s, 80s and 90s but since then we have invested nearly £800 million of lottery money in saving them. But its all changing again. Cuts are so severe in places like Liverpool, Newcastle, Manchester, Birmingham and across the majority of local authorities, that as the cuts go deeper, they are now looking at better ways of making money. This includes more events in parks, increasing charges for park hire, more funfairs, cafe franchises, sponsorship, car parking charges and so on. It is unavoidable.

BUT lets look at the other side of the coin. Park runs - the whole essence of a park run is to encourage the least active members of society to start exercising regularly. We have an obesity crisis in this country.  The current rate of obesity and overweight conditions suggest the cost to the NHS could increase from between £6 billion and £8 billion in 2015 to between £10 billion and £12 billion in 2030, a recent study has found. Check this link out for Public Health England's views on the economics of obesity. https://www.noo.org.uk/NOO_about_obesity/economics" target="_blank">http://https://www.noo.org.uk/NOO_about_obesity/economics

It makes stark reading. This is serious stuff. But lets go back to why parks are important and how history repeats itself and how we never seem to learn from history. Victoria Park, Tower Hamlets, London

The first official acknowledgment of the need for a park in the East End of London came in the 1839 Annual Report of the Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages, which recorded a mortality rate far higher than for the rest of London, brought about by massive overcrowding, insanitary conditions and polluted air.

The report stated: "… a park in the East End of London would probably diminish the annual deaths by several thousands… and add several years to the lives of the entire population."

So back to the park run in Stoke Gifford. A small parish with 15,000 parishioners who a number have complained about wear and tear, car parking, users of the park from elsewhere (why is that an issue?) and that they monopolise the parks paths every Saturday and Sunday morning at 9-00am. 

This is wrong on so many levels. The costs saved in the medium and long term across the UK by getting people fitter cannot be underestimated. If we are going to charge park runs which are run primarily by volunteers (I have them in Cassiobury Park in Watford), do we start charging dog walkers, one of the biggest user groups in parks - who empties the dog poo bins free of charge? Do we start charging the Sunday morning men in lycra on bikes for use of our highways? Those who hire pitches etc pay to play because they are part of national governing bodies like the local and regional Football associations etc but to consider charging park runs is simply wrong and a huge backward step in the free use of our public parks. 


Colleagues and Friends... past, present and future?

Posted on March 27, 2016 at 12:50 AM Comments comments (1)

I have been called many things over the years, and latterly termed a Dull Man but its always been an issue what people think about me. I think we all want to be liked in some ways although I suppose some really don't care, but truth be known, it does matter to me what people think about me. I have never been one for having loads and loads of friends and going out with mates, or even been a party person, but a number of people mainly through work and Uni, have been with me for a long time. The new book out in June is dedicated to many of them who have shared work adventures and others beyon work. These are a few of them from the Boro..... such great times 

Dr Sue Antrobus - one of the most dynamic people I have worked with - Middlesbrough's former Wildspace Officer, now going great guns at Tees Valley Wildlife Trust


Dave Hodgson - former Principal Engineer at Middlesbrough - now a big wig at East Durham Homes


Eddie Jones - Middlesbrough's Mr Parks - I had the pleasure of working with him but probably best I never knew what he was up to!


Lis Airey - still saving trees in Co Durham


Mr. Richard Buckley and Emily Barrett - never knew what they got up to when my back was turned - back row as usual causing bother but both amazing at what they did. I think Richard is the only survivor but doing sporty stuff now, and as for Em... super mum after taking Staff Wildlife trust by storm. Stick collecting expert and Hobbycraft regular 


Tony Duggan -  best boss I ever had pictured with the gorgeous Susannah Clarke - Opera Singer


Geoff and Dick - dodgy dudes indeed


Andy White - let me build the biggest skate park ever


Jim Moody - one of the kindest colleagues I ever had


Sue Houghton - my first Boro boss - so reminds me of my current Watford boss


Mr Mackem - Alan Lawson - one of my fave people and funniest guy I have worked with


Matthew Smartt - always wondered what he was constantly smiling about


Peter Small - a fabulous fella who loves his ale


Pherenice Worsey Buck - one of the happiest people who I have worked with and now doing wonderful deeds in Bromley


Myself and Stuart Johnston - awards ceremony for Albert Park



Emma Watton - bloody lunatic - nuff said 

Be careful what you say! and to whom!!

Posted on February 6, 2016 at 7:45 AM Comments comments (2)

This is a funny. 

I met a chap at work yesterday who I had never had the pleasure of meeting before who was keen to see whether we could work together on a project. He asked about the Cassiobury Park project in Watford and what it entailed and went on to describe the new Hub and the relocation of the bandstand back into the park. Of course he didn't know I have an obsession with them, so he went on to mention about the nutter he heard on Radio 2 a few weeks ago regaling the virtues of the bandstand on the Jeremy Vine show - said he was really good but a bit nuts. Hmmmm should have seen his face when I said that it was ME!!!!!! So funny. Nice bloke and actually very complimentary and loved what he does. 

I often tell the story of me becoming a Dull Man at the many WI talks too and its incredible how many have seen in the press, and they all remember the grass cutting guy. Bandstands far more interesting. But then I would say that as I'm a nutter. 

Crap towns?

Posted on January 20, 2016 at 4:35 PM Comments comments (2118)

Happy New Year everyone. Its now mid January and its cold, so cold and trying to stick to New Year resolutions. I am certainly spending more time on the train travelling into Watford. Which brings me onto the subject of this blog. Crap towns seems to have been a bit of a fashion over the last few years with bookshelves rammed with books on Crap Towns and Crap Towns 2 and lots of polls about the shittiest places to live in the UK. The latest is here . It lambasts the town of Luton. Now I don't live there, I have a Luton postcode but live out in Leighton Buzzard. I have been to Luton and indeed spent some time doing some work for Luton Borough Council assessing their parks and open spaces. My daughter has competed in Luton and I have flown from Luton airport. I have visited the large asian area with my daughter to buy asian goodies. Do I like the place? not really, but then I don't like Manchester or Aylesbury or Wycombe or Hull or Hemel Hempstead or Margate, but thats just an opinion based on fleeting visits. I lived in Carlisle for 8 years - not my favourite town, but happy times there, I lived in Darlington for 10 years, loved the place but amazingly many think it a dull grey town. I worked for 8 years in Middlesbrough, now thats a town that is always top of the crap leagues and is a brutalist looking town. When I moved to Watford, many said, uuurghhhh what a place to go to, its like Luton. 

So whats the point of this rambling. Over 210,000 people live in Luton. Its a growing town with a lot of issues that it contends with. I am sure many of these Luton-ites would love to live in Tunbridge Wells, St Aban's, Harrogate, Wokingham, Winchester, Bath, Cambridge and such like but the fact is they don't. Many can't. If it wasn't for towns like Luton, Middlesbrough, Hull, Stockton on Tees, Barrow in Furness, Scunthorpe, Wolverhampton, Walsall, we wouldn't have towns like Harrogate, Wokingham et al. Industrial centres, the powerhouse of our economies over hundreds of years, and as those industries decline, what they leave behind are often communities that are unable to move. I am sure disgusted of Tunbridge Wells would love to see fields and lanes built over to house the mass growing population of many of our former industrial centres. Back to Luton, the heart of the British car industry and we haven't got much left now have we!!, great parks - Wardown and Stockwood are superb, an international airport that really is one of the best I have flown from. It is a grey gritty town. Middlesbrough, now I worked there for years. A hellish place I thought, but went back last year. Yes, many problems but it has such icons of industry, the transporter bridge, one of the most impressive town halls you will ever see, wonderful parks such as Albert Park and Stewart Park. Again, a former powerhouse of industry evolving, struggling, urban, gritty. 

So, the point of these ridiculous surveys - do we really give a shit. Why? (1) not everyone has a choice where they live, (2) people who live there, born and brought up there actually do like living there (3) those who bash towns like Luton are not from Luton so butt out (4) be thankful we have towns like Luton, Middlesbrough etc, as they have made this country; (5) bashing towns is demoralising, despite intense Tory cuts from this incumbent governement we are stuck with, Borough Councils and the staff within and agencies who live and work here, are firecely loyal and work damned hard so some ass-hole stupid poll really is not helpful (6) and if every town was like Oxford where no one can afford to live and work and thats a town at crisis point where nurses, bus drivers and teachers cannot be retained here because they cannot afford the properties - what kind of community does that create?? So leave Luton alone and don't even bring immigration into it. 

Merry Christmas from a Grumpy man and roll on 2016

Posted on December 23, 2015 at 9:20 AM Comments comments (9)

So sat listening to yet another Xmas song on the radio - its on all the time in the office (John Lennon / Yoko Ono seems most popular). I always start feeling festive around about now. I hate the shopping aspect of it and the blind panic in people's faces. Its one day of the year. Anyway, people off, emails down to single figures and looking forward to a few things:-

 

  • Time off - a long break in between as we close down at WBC so its about a week off in total
  • Time with the family too. Walking my adorable dog
  • Enjoying my new house - having just moved to a fabulous 1840s house with so much space, I have not had a lot of time to enjoy it
  • Time to start a new book too - Book No. 9 is developing too
  • Time to draw up my bucket list for 2016. I didn't do one for 2015 and regret it as it was my 50th year
So what kind of year has it been? Not one to dwell on the negatives, its been a challenging one with illness I have not coped with too well and knocked a whole chunk out of the summer. This helped - worth a look and sent to me by a friend, and I read this too which was brilliant. A short stay in holiday too on another issue was agonising. Mrs R hasn't been too well either but again, on the mend. The moving house was hell and I will never do myself ever again.
But a year that brought many lovely new memories - a fantastic holiday in Italy (Umbria / Tuscany) - Siena, Florence, Cortona, Pisa were simply incredible. The house we had was idyllic. We found Charlie, our amazing 6 year old Westie from Battersea Dogs Home who has changed our home totally. We absolutely love him. I had my 50th birthday - it passed quietly but glad I have reached the milestone. We moved to New Road and whilst horrendously expensive to rent, it is a wonderful house and home. My children have excelled and exceeded this year. Ashley at Greenwich Uni and Holly at Middlesex Uni, both now in year 2  and I am so so proud of them. Then my youngest Ellie moved to Upper School and she too is just excelling. Sports and music is her thing and she just keeps on running. Again so proud of her.

So to move on to 2016 - whats ahead? Looking forward to my 8th book being published in June, Cassiobury Park Restoration on site, Bandstands projects taking off, seeing my kids succeed, better health - running again in January ! - less stress - hence the running, back to Mallorca this year, more train journeys to work rather than sitting in traffic, Nandos with the family ( I do like a Nandos), seeing ELO in April at the O2, and so much more I hope.

Don't get stressed this Christmas, enjoy the time off, its only one day. Enjoy Downton Abbey on Christmas Day.... and remember, "Don't let the bells end"





  

 

Being Dull.....

Posted on October 28, 2015 at 9:25 AM Comments comments (9)

The definition of being dull - "uninteresting, boring, tedious, tiresome, wearisome, flat and bland" - to name but a few. Apparently I am one of Great Britain's Dullest Men, according to a new book out of the very same name. To tell the story, a took a call from a very interesting American fella called Leland Carlson who a couple of years back did a calendar on Britain's Dullest Men and it sold so well, he decided on a book and felt I should be in it because of the bandstand fetish. Hilariously I agreed after chatting to him and actually getting where he was coming from. Its all about celebrating the ordinary - querky eccentricities indeed as not all of us guys want to climb mountains, bedeck ourselves in garish lycra and ride £2,000+ bikes every weekend or run marathons every weekend (with Xmas off). Nope, not for me as I am far more interested in what many people class as dull. I am in great company - hoover collectors, traffic cone man, grass cutting diary man, follies man, WW1 tank man - great company. Are we all dull? nope, just a tad odd but its what makes us all so British and thats whats so important. Being dull did get me in a few odd places when the book was launched:-

 

  • Middle page of The Sun
  • Daily Mail
  • Daily Telegraph
  • Daily Mirror
  • Chris Evans BBC Radio 2 name checked
  • A live interview with Jeremy Vine on BBC Radio 2
  • A live interview on BBC 3 Counties Radio - twice
  • Feature in the Leighton Buzzard Observer
  • Featured on Have I got News for You with my picture popping up
  • Various websites too numerous to mention
It was all so much fun and the book itself is just so funny. So am I dull? probably but I really don't care. A few links below!!








 

Blogs a bit thin on the ground!

Posted on September 14, 2015 at 6:00 PM Comments comments (167)

Ah, as thin as the hair on my ever decreasing mop top, lots to write about but just haven't got around to it. Jeez a lot has happened over the last few weeks. What is going on in this mad world. 

Personally, a short spell in hospital, gory details spared, but time to think. Then a wonderful time in Italy. A week in Umbria and Tuscany. My, the Italians have it right, they really don't give a damn - so relaxed and chilled, wonderful community spirit among the people, stunning landscapes and Siena and Florence a sight I won't forget. Truly memorable. The place we stayed at was remote, 1.5km up a mountain track and you could not hear a thing apart from the breeze. I could have stayed there forever. A return home through Dunstable late Saturday night brought it all back to reality - drunks, emergency services attempting to cope, fast food on hand and taxis meandering among the vomit plastered streets. 

And back to work. And back to life. Refugees, riots, left wing Labour returns, Chelsea in deep trouble, a house move imminent and a the longest reigning monarch ever in this courageous country we call home. 

So where to from here? Book No. 8 halfway through with funding from Veolia and Green Flag, Great British Parks will indeed by a visual celebration of some lovely parks we have so carefully restored. A meeting lined up with Historic England to discuss a few more books too, Decimus Burton still needs doing as does a full monograph on bandstands and a new comprehensive history of public parks. The house move is giving us a spare bedroom so a man cave is developing in my head and places to store the immense collection of vinyl and growing daily, a collection of some lovely books. 

Student children have returned south so closer to home again, white dog is in control of the black dog and a new iPhone too is out. Upgrade due. And the big milestone is just around the corner, 50 in October. 26th to be precise. It was meant to be a year of achievements this year but as the hamster sits gazing at me wistfully (I think thats how he gazes), it hasn't quite panned out like that, so the 50th becomes more important and a new Apple MacBook would be a suitable compensation. Donations greatfully welcome. 

And to finish this rambling blog, I met up with Mr Bryn Jones (sounds Welsh...but he's Irish with a hint of Brazilian) in Huddersfield the other week who I haven't seen in about 4-5 years and it was a pleasure to see him again. People really do matter (so does a new MacBook too!!)





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