Friday 26 July 2013

Localism, Harpenden Style

the council chamber
Take a good look. Are you impressed? This imposing edifice is County Hall, Hertford. On Tuesday morning it was where the Development Control Committee of 9 county councillors met to decide whether to reject my Town Green Application. The result was rather a forgone conclusion as Harpenden town council had issued threats of legal action if they did not. Having therefore turned it down 7:2 I feel the building should forever now be known as ''the place where Localism died''.

New blog followers start here: 15 years ago Harpenden town council closed my local allotment site, as it had plans to develop the land. There was no consultation; the plot holders were merely told to leave. Spaces were offered at another private allotment, some people just gave up. Since then local people have fought long and hard to save the site which is now home to a rare and legally protected wildlife species, and the adjoining playing field, which is a safe landlocked green space where children can run and play freely. Any development would entail building a road right across it, bringing traffic, pollution and changing forever the character of this last bit of the former Westfield Common. 15 years on there is still no consultation and the 100% Tory town council is still trying to force a completely inappropriate development into a completely inadequate space.

Typically, the local Harpenden councillor speaking against my application for Town Green status on our playing field chose to open his 5 minute speech by ''dissing'' me for my protest letters to the local paper and the things I write on this blog. Sweet. I have long ceased to be amazed at the way some of our local politicians have this arrogant attitude whereby they think it is perfectly acceptable to launch derogatory personal attacks in a public forum upon ordinary residents, who in this case are merely trying to preserve and protect a priceless asset on behalf of local people. Fine if you're in Parliament or in a council meeting with fellow councillors, totally out of order when aimed at hapless members of the community who may lack the necessary skills to respond.
Except that I don't. And I am ...

So apart from awaiting, and then continuing to oppose Harpenden town council's predictable response to the Town Green refusal, a possible option could now be to go for judicial review. To initiate this, I need either to rustle up a rich sugar daddy in the next 12 weeks, or get onto Kickstarter. If you can help in either category, do let me know. Haha. Particularly the former. Meanwhile, while the council grins, pats itself on the back and plans its next encroachment, some of the remaining allotment holders have been out on the land they have earmarked for ''affordable housing'', kindly taking pictures for me of the very rare and very legally protected IUCN Red Listed Roman snails that the council says 'do not exist'.

2/39 Roman Snails (Allotmentus Invisibilis)

Saturday 20 July 2013

The PINK SOFA Welcomes Sarah England

Sarah England
Sarah England is yet another of the extremely talented fiction writers I have met on social media sites. Her new book: Expected has just been published by the wonderfully named Crooked Cat. The strap line on the cover says: 'Fiery. Feisty. Fun' a description of the heroine Sam Sweet. It could just as aptly be applied to Sarah herself, as you are about to find out. The PINK SOFA, who likes to visualize itself as Fun & Feisty - it doesn't do Fiery due to the flame-retardant upholstery, is very taken with the book, and has stashed its copy behind a cushion to read later when everybody has gone. What you are about to enjoy is not the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Though some of it is. 
Over to you, Sarah ...

 ''My life began when my parents won me at a fairground. They'd wanted a coconut but the gypsy stallholder was all out. I was a strange child, though not as strange as my parents - who came from an inbred hilltop village where everyone had the same surname. To make it easier for the postman each family was allotted a colour - blue or pink etc. And that bit, dead reader, is not made up! Freaky eh?

Sarah's new novel
So hardly surprising that my parents did not so much have my best interests at heart, as to find me a general source of amusement. I first realised this when they took me pony-riding - the pony sneezed and I flew off. Bawling my little eyes out, I looked for sympathy only to find the pair of them helpless with laughter. After that, my dear father would go out of his way to smash me in the face with a shuttlecock during family games of badminton and my dear mother took great hilarity dressing me up in hideous balaclavas for Sunday school. So I grew up quite cross.

Desperate to escape, I ran away to become a nurse and then worked in medical sales, unsurprisingly specializing in mental health, a subject I bring up oh so many times in my work. Then came the disastrous marriage - to one, who, to continue the theme, enjoyed my discomfort so much I questioned his sanity, and once again escaped. By this time I had reached maturity: I was a middle aged woman, bitter and twisted, swigging gin from beneath the roots of a tree. It was then I decided to become a writer.
Sarah's short stories

To date I have had many short stories published in magazines and newspapers, and this year my collection of thrillers 3am and Wide Awake was published by Alfie Dog Fiction. Hot on the heels came Expected - my comedy novel. Thrillers? Horror? Comedy? Yes I agree it's tragic but that's the story of my life so far. I'm odd and it's hardly surprising. I read tarot and have a passion for the supernatural. Many of the stories in 3am are medically or supernaturally inspired - all with bizarre twists. Whereas Sam Sweet in Expected is the perfect role model for hapless dingbats everywhere. Read and be inspired ...

Thank you very much for inviting me onto your PINK SOFA, Carol. It's been lovely lying here pouring out my heartfelt life story and knowing I won't be judged. By the way - what's that white van doing out there? Who are those people with syringes?? Shriek! I couldn't use your bathroom could I? Wouldn't be the first time I've shimmied down a drainpipe - mind you that was before I mysteriously ballooned up to the size of a pregnant heifer ...''

Hahahaha - love it!! If you want to connect with Sarah, and why not - you can contact her via Twitter @sarahengland16  or via her website: or on Facebook:
Sarah's books are available on and and well worth reading. 

Right, while the PINK SOFA fends off the men in white coats with a big stick - anybody got any comments or questions?

Friday 12 July 2013

Transports of Delight

A local bus. Member of Bus Pass Crew alighting

Before I reached 60, I never used buses. They were expensive, unreliable and took far too long to get where they were going, or so I thought. I have subsequently discovered how mistaken I was. Now that I am a member of the Bus Pass Crew, I know better. Apart from the occasions when they decide not to show up, there is very little about using the local buses that I don't like.

Interestingly, it was the presence of a local bus route, with named local stops, that was one of the things the Inspector on our Town Green Public Inquiry asked me about, when the obnoxious council barrister was trying to prove that where I live is not a proper ''neighbourhood''. He would only have to stand in the queue waiting for the 657 (it used to be the 625; we don't know why they changed it) or the 366 from Luton to see that we are a community.

I have got on the first morning bus into town, looked around, and realised that I know everybody on board. And there are some great conversations to be had. Here, using the bus has a set routine. You board and greet the driver. You scan your pass. You greet any passengers that make eye contact as you find your seat. You move to the back of the bus automatically if a mum and buggy get on. You vacate the 'elderly' seats without being asked. When you leave the bus, you thank the driver. If a stranger boards who is unsure of where they are going, you all pile in with your helpful ten pence worth.

Mind you, I live in a relatively small town. I also use the buses in London, and the contrast is unbelievable. London buses are so unfriendly.The first time I got on a London bus, I tried to scan my pass on the Oyster card machine, causing it to go into conniptions. I got glared at by the driver. I tried to leave the bus by the front, not the centre doors. I got glared at by the driver. I said thank you as I alighted. I got glared at by the driver.

Here, because it's usually the same set of drivers, they get to know who we are and where we catch the bus. I have known certain nice drivers to stop at non-designated stops to let elderly people off with heavy bags of shopping, and one morning, when I was walking up to the local school in the rain to invigilate, the bus drew alongside, slowed, and the driver gave me a 'do you want to get on' look. That's how we roll where I live.

The other thing about buses is that occasionally, something happens that just fills you with delight and reminds you that the world is so much nicer than it appears on the surface. Like the time I was travelling back from Welwyn Garden City and the bus stopped to let a little playgroup board. The kids were wide-eyed, noisy and fizzing with excitement at catching a bus. The leaders settled them into the front seats (hastily vacated) as best they could, but it was a bit like trying to organise a panic. As the driver pulled away from the kerb, one of the leaders gamely squatted down in the gangway, and very discreetly and slightly anxiously began to sing ''Wheels on the bus'', in an attempt to calm things down.

And then, something happened. First, the people in the nearest seats started to join in. Then those sitting behind them joined in, followed rapidly by those further back, so that by the time the bus crested the hill outside the town, everybody on board (except for two college students at the rear of the bus who were desperately trying to pretend they weren't there) was singing along to ''Wheels on the bus'' and doing the hand gestures, to the rapturous joy of the little playgroup, who clearly thought this was what happened on every journey.

That's why I like buses.

Friday 5 July 2013

You Don't Have To Be Mad....

A frustrating week at Hedges Towers. Not sure if there is an actual word for ''lots of stuff all going wrong at exactly the same time'', but if there is, it was a word I could have usefully employed.

The primary culprit was the fridge. It had been over-iceing for quite a long while, so that every time I opened the freezer compartment, I expected to find David Attenborough and a camera team filming the next series of Frozen Planet. On Saturday night, while watching Wallander, the fridge started making alarming noises best described as a rhythmical throbbing coupled with grinding its teeth. I applied the usual technical response ... kicking the door, which shut it up. Next morning, I discovered that it had shut up permanently and ice melt was occurring in its northern hemisphere.

So to John Lewis, where we discovered that they don't make small under the counter fridges with freezers in them any more. Or rarely. It seems that the 'modern' way now is to have a 'larder fridge' and a separate freezer. We don't understand this at all. Why on earth would anyone choose to have two gadgets? We don't want two fridges. We don't have space. We don't have a larder (take me to your larder...). Nor do we have room for the gigantic American-style fridge freezer keep-a-body-in-it units that seemed to be the main items on show. Eventually after much searching, we narrowed it down to a choice of one Zanussi model, which we bought. Hobson's choice.

Were that not disaster enough, the cheap why-did-I-buy-it? Nokia phone suddenly went on strike and refused to pass on texts. Which I didn't know until a friend rang me to ask why I hadn't replied to one. Tried the usual method - turning it off and then on. Didn't respond. Finally levered the back off with a knife, took the whole thing apart and reinserted its bits. Phone wouldn't start as it insisted there was now no sim card. Even though there was, and I showed it the sim card to prove it.

So to the phone shop, where the kindergarten-aged assistant informed me accusingly that I had the wrong sim card. Thus apparently it was my fault. New card inserted, BH and I decided to test it, so he rang me and lo and behold the phone worked. Trouble was, we then got so engrossed in having a good moan that we ended up walking the length of the mall side by side ranting to each other on our phones. Must have looked very odd.

I'm saving the Le Creuset coffee cups incident, the mice and the fake Planning Application that some prankster attached to the fence around the allotment land saying it had been earmarked as a Traveller Site for 200 Eastern European Roma for another blog.

Suffice it to say that next Wednesday, the new fridge will arrive. We are crossing our fingers that it fits into the space under the counter. We did measure the space, but who knows, perhaps since then someone has redesigned centimetres to make them more ''modern'', so possibly it won't.

Thursday 4 July 2013

Daiku: @CarolJHedges

Daiku: @CarolJHedges: Carol J Hedges Made two pledges. To save her town green And remove her councillor's spleen.