Friday, March 31, 2006

The lost Geordie seventh wonder of the world...

Google Earth is an amazing thing. I can spend hours looking at satellite views of places I have been to before (or would like to visit) all over the world, some tantalisingly indistinct, others sharp enough to see pedestrians.

Sometimes the pictures surprise- buildings demolished years ago are still visible due to the satallite mapping being out of date.

A saunter to 55 deg 0' 22.60" N 1 deg 39' 53.28W brings you to what looks like a garden feature in a Council Estate I lived in when I was aged 10 or so. It was the Kenton Bar Estate in Newcastle and a saunter to the co-ordinates shown shows the primary school to the South (which I attended for about 9 months), some flat roof single storey flats to the East (looking rather like Lego shapes) and two blocks of low rise flats at right angles, one to the North and the other to the West with a bit of a gap between them.

This area was designated as a sort of modern Town Square and shops were built under the Western Block. To the left of the parade was a coin-op Launderette which had all brand new Bendix machines and, innovative for the time, a Dry Cleaning machine. In the centre was a Newsagent, called North kenton News (which was a misnomer as North Kenton was thought of as the older and much scrattier estate adjoining to the North East). There was an Off License, Goldfinch Wines, which my Parents later had as tenants for a couple of years. There were also two vacant shops seperating the three open ones and I seem to recall that when we first moved there in late 1968 only the Offy was open.

There were intended to be shops below the other block of flats but they were never constructed so there was clear space below apart from the stair wells. The square was on two distinct levels joined by a ramp and stairs either side of a water feature. I visited the square a number of years ago and was surprised to find it had been tapered to a slope (as it is on the Google Earth view) and I'm pretty sure the path running at right angles to the Western block is the vestigial remains of the ramp as there are some low level light fittings I recognised. The vestigial wall at the left hand end of the Northern Block gives an indication of the height differential with must have been 10' or so.

There is a very prominent feature removed from this 60's socialist eutopia square that fascinated me as a kid, both aesthetically and technically. It would be interesting to find out why it was built in the first place and eventually removed at what must have been a considerable expense. Anyway, I will blog on what was missing after a suitable pause for comment and speculation from all three of my readers.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Mothering Sunday

We have a routine on Mothers Day, inspired by an episode of "Little Bill" that David saw many years ago. Karen gets served breakfast in bed, consisting of Scotch pancakes made up into faces by the addition of raisins.

As David recently discovered the joys of Banana Splits, we also have marachino Cherries and squirty cream in the fridge so the pancakes had red noses and hair.

The fact that David was at his Grandmas because of the Mayor's Ball last night was readily circumvented- when we got back home this afternoon, Karen had to go back to bed in order to be served breakfast!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Lazy Sunday afternoon...

...not this Sunday just gone, nearly four hours at Rothwell Sports Centre whilst David and I went for our orange belt Karate grading.

GKR Karate have changed the system a bit since we last went. Now all belts grade together, although under 12s and over 12s are done seperately. This is because it has been made easier for the Kids- they don't have to do Kata until Green belt.

Grown-ups, however, still have to perform Kata at yellow and orange. In GKR Karate, the first two Katas are similar, the second including a number of kicks as well as the stance, block and punch movements of the first kata.
Once the main stuff is out of the way, the lower grades get some sparring tuition whilst the higher grades are tested on the advance Katas.

Whilst my balancing during very slow training kicks is still terrible and some of my advanced hand movements are a bit suspect, I'm pleased that my stamina and skill are much improved. Last time, I was close to needing a sit down after the intense routine, this time it was much easier- and indeed more enjoyable.

I had a minor panic attack last friday in the Dojo- the 2nd Kata was being done much faster than normal and I mixed my blocks up somewhat, something immediately being picked up by Sen Sei, the instructor. This gave me a slight crisis of confidence that maybe I had been doing it wrong for ages. However, I was just having an off day and sailed through it today, hindered only slightly by an enthusiastic but dyslexically limbed orange-belter in front of me!

Saturday, March 18, 2006


We had a book fair at work in aid of Children in need today, as well as it being a good hook to get staff involved in our "right to read" scheme, where we visit nearby primaries and listen to kids reading books on a one to one basis.

Knowing this event was coming up, I took the opportunity to have a bit of a clearout of the vast number of management books I have acquired over the years. I originally intended to sell them on ebay, but taking a couple of Ikea sacks in to work was much less fuss!

My loft looks something like the back room of an Oxfam shop as Karen is often loath to get rid of things and I have tended to save boxes for a while now if there is a vague chance that the item will be ebayed. I cleared out a load of baby items for the Morley for Thurokovil appeal jumble sale last Spring but it is still an obstacle course.

I have a monster collection of floppy disks, many from when I was self-employed which probably contain software that has no use whatsoever, being for a doomed (now defunct )product development that kept me solvent even if it drove me to distraction at the futility of it all in a Marvinesque way (as in HHGTTG). The trouble is, that was my early days of venturing onto the internet and in amongst the chaff are 100% whole wheatgerm emails and documents that would be worth a fortune to a biographer if I suddenly became rich and famous. Maybe a trip to the tip is on the cards...

The book fair had a great selection, although the most interesting ones were the ones I had donated! I came away with a book about the history of magic illusions and another one which is some sort of conspiracy theory about the Titanic actually being her sister ship the Olympic.

Returning to my desk, there was a small bemused crowd looking out of the window- it seems that a sex worker was providing a client with personal services, in a nearby alleyway that was slat fenced so not particularly private. It started as a hand shandy and migrated to a pugwash (if you are unfamiliar with these terms, Roger Mellie can help). We did think that fire hoses may have sorted out the issue- it works with dogs apparently (unless they get stuck).

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Summonsed to appear...

When you are a Councillor, notices of meetings are also known as Summonses. Most of us think of a Summons as something a Court sends you when you have committed an offence but Councils are something a bit like clubs who summons members to meetings as they are expected to attend. The Houses of Parliament work the same way and indeed old established clubs and societies like the Masons follow the same practice.

I've been summonsed to a special meeting on Wednesday. What is special about it? Well, it is a training event on the Councillor's code of conduct. Why does it have to be embedded into a meeting? Beats me, perhaps someone thought that they would get a better attendance if it was a pukka meeting as the sound of training can be a bit dry to some. However, by making it a proper meeting, it comes under the auspices of the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960, which means the public are entitled to be present unless specifically excluded for particular items where publicity would not be in the public interest. My "yellow bible" doesn't mention training as a valid reason to exclude!

The matter is further complicated by the meeting time being 6pm, but the listing outside the Town Hall shows it as 7pm. Technically, the meeting should be postponed until then, as it is an obligation to post details three clear days before the meeting, i.e. if the poster was changed tomorrow, the meeting would have to be on Friday.

The other thing I'm not overly impressed about is that the meeting is at 6pm- I'll have to rush eating tea and so on. I would have been much happier if we had simply been invited to a straight-forward training event- so what if some people don't come? it is their choice as individuals and selling the event on the benefits always goes down better than being told to do something for your own good. We get enough of that from the Government...

Monday, March 06, 2006


All of the template links have disappeared, due to my changing something when blogger was misbehaving a couple of weeks ago. I'll put them back in due course.

Now, what did I have up there? Never mind, some of them were out of date anyway, particularly the police ones, as quite a few bloggers have got cold feet after being leaned on...

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Keys to the kingdom

I recently managed to leave a house key in a Hotel Safe. It is a long and rather dull story, so I won't bother.

Visiting B&Q for some new heavy power cable for a new cooker, I noticed that they now cut keys so handed over mine to duplicate. Their key cutting machine is very high tech and appears to require minimal skill by the Operator (a definite bonus in retail, especially in DIY stores. It isn't a bonus for the Customer though!). He opened a little door and put the key in. The machine then moved it around inside, measuring it to get an accurate profile. It presumably then informed the operator which blank to choose, as he opened up a storage cupboard behind and chose a key from a numbered bin. Putting the key in place via the little door again, the machine then proceeded to measure the blank to make sure it was suitable. It then ground the notches accordingly, presenting the finished product back at the access door. The operator then removed it, ran it through a grinding aperture (presumably to remove burrs) and returned it, after comparing it to the original and commenting that it was fairly worn. (Well it would be, it has been used at least twice a day for more than a decade).

The machine itself was a tall square cabinet, with windows on three sides, horizontal slit windows so you could see the wonders within (lit by those blue LEDs that seem to find their way into most appliances these days). It was probably very heavy, as it had fork holes at the base, with a warning not to lift it more than one inch clear of the ground (so presumably a high centre of gravity as well). The blurb said that it was "Laser key (R)- cut to work first time, every time! Laser Key (R) uses the latest scanning and robotics technology, which can correct for wear and tear, to cut a precision key that will afford trouble free operation."

Did it? Did it buggery. It would open the door with a fair bit of fiddling about but it didn't live up to the hype.

Laserkey (R) has a website at but last time I looked it was just a holding page.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Meetings, bloody meetings...

The title comes from a training video I used to show in the 80s when I was National training Officer for Eighteen Plus. When I say video, I actually mean 16mm film because it was getting on a bit. It starred John Cleese (who started Video Arts, the Training production Company) and emphasised the importance of making sure meetings achieved their outcomes.

One of our more peculiar traits of the Morley Town Council (of which I am a Member) is to vote on items without having discussed them very much, which strikes me that it probably means that some Councillors don’t necessarily understand the whys and wherefores of what is proposed, let alone the unintended consequences. One such example was the March Full Council meeting where in amongst the business was a proposal to set up some form of executive body for strategic planning along with a reduction in Council and Committee meeting frequency to bi-monthly (with the exception of planning, which continues to meet twice a month as it needs to do so).

Now the scheme may have considerable merit and be blindingly obvious to the people that created it but conveying that across in a short written report with a list of cascading recommendations and then moving into voting on it without discussion suggested to me that people were restless in their seats and were keen to get on home or onto the refreshments rather than actually discuss what it meant.

I had a number of half formed concerns that I wanted to express, but being only allowed to make one speech, was waiting for others to make points that would swing my views accordingly. However, I was waiting in vain!

Needless to say, the topic got bogged down in confusion, but was eventually passed with something of a minority, there being a lot of abstentions along the way.

At the end of the meeting, another Councillor commented that if we had “Group meetings”, this sort of thing wouldn’t happen. However, I think that would cure the symptom, not the problem. What is the point of having several Group meetings where political parties make up the minority?

The six Labour members obviously have a Group meeting, as they vote the same way and look to key individuals for guidance. They also seem to abstain a lot, which is puzzling. An abstention is something of a wasted vote, as the majority is based only on yes or no votes. Does it mean “I don’t know?”, or “I don’t care?”?

The two Conservatives could have a Group meeting over a cup of Coffee or anything else, as they are married to each other (and infrequently seen together at full Council anyway, due to childcare etc.)

The five Morley Borough Independents regularly have Group meetings anyway, because they are all on Leeds City Council as well, although only one of them actually stood as an MBI on the Town Council.

The other eleven Councillors are truly independent with a wide range of views, leanings and alliances. Whilst there is often a common consensus of outcome for the good of the Town, the approach varies from libertarian to idiotarian, with a pinch of statism for good measure. Holding a Group meeting for such a bunch is a bit like herding cats!

Cat herding, though, is attempted because it is the traditional thing to do. There are regular Group meetings and I have been along to a couple of them but I have also felt an unease as the undercurrent seems more to be not losing face to the others by being poorly prepared, such as someone not being primed to Second a set of Minutes.
The trouble with having pre-meetings to decide a position on an issue is a two-fold problem; it is behind closed doors and it closes minds by falling back into the adversarial trap of political point scoring rather than consensus through rational discussion. The solution is simple- the pre-meeting should happen in the Council Chamber on the night. Proposals sometimes need a presentation and time for questions of clarification before debating the merits.

A lot of time at last night’s meeting was wasted re-enacting the battles of the Letters to the Editor page in the Morley Obtiser. Fortunately, the Press and most of the Public had gone home, the two remaining being used to the cut and thrust of small town politics which substitutes the Sabre for a traffic cone...