Archive for June, 2015

Afternoon in Guildford

June 26, 2015
barge on the River Wey

barge on the River Wey

Where for lunch in Guildford?

It used to not even be a question. I would pick up a few things off the market and head to the Guildford Institute where I was guaranteed an excellent lunch.

The lady who did those excellent lunches has sadly left. The Keystone was perfect on a warm sunny day, lunch in the back courtyard, but it has gone so far downhill it is a joke. Last week roast dinner at Debenham’s, but the vegetables were cold.

I looked in Debenham’s. The roast pork was off. I was surprised, as a hot day. I spoke with the chef, let him know the crackling was not crisp and the vegetables cold the previous week.

I then thought, a hot sunny day, tapas at La Casita. At least that was my intention. A girl from Catalonia brought me a lunchtime menu. I decided to try sea bream and rice. It was excellent.

On my way, I popped in the Oxfam shop. I am pleased to say they are not selling the cheap rubbish peanut butter, bulked out with sugar palm oil and sea salt that is on sale in Oxfam in Winchester.

Phyllis Tuckwell shop. Where the books are, two speakers blaring out awful music and advertising. I asked were they deliberately trying to drive people out of the shop? She said they had had many complaints, and I am not surprised. I told her other Phyllis Tuckwell shops do not abuse their customers in this way, they have it turned off. She said they were stupid. No, it is her and the shop in Guildford. The sick thing is they are paying a lot of money for this rubbish to be piped into the shops. How much I do not know. A good way for a charity to spend money?

The Christian bookshop opposite St Mary’s has gone bust, or at least closed down. No surprised. Since it changed hands and the good staff forced out, it has been rubbish. Mention of alternative shops, but no mention of Triangle. I had the notice changed.

Before leaving La Casita, I thought it looked dull outside. I though maybe it was shady in the street. No, the sun had gone it was dull, and cool.

Passing by St Mary’s earlier, they have a People’s Music Festival, run by People’s Record Shop. I popped in, to ask more. A tent, but I could not see where, but he said out the back.

I asked what the music was playing, as it was good, and he said Gretchen Peters who will be appearing at Holy Trinity (2 August 2015).

It is good live music events are being promoted in Guildford, and I wished him luck.

Ben’s Records, I let Ben know. He said he knew and although a rival record shop, he had publicised on his facebook page.

Sad to learn Shaun had left Glutton & Glee. He had gone there from Harris + Hoole. He made a huge difference to the coffee. A big loss to Glutton & Glee.

On the entrance to the Castle Grounds a restaurant. It changes hands every few years always a failure, gets refurbished, then fails. It is in refurbishment phase. Cowboy builders cutting stone in the entrance to the Castle Grounds, dust everywhere, no attempt to damp down, builders not wearing face masks.

I asked Tourist Information when Godalming Food Festival. Next Saturday. I asked that they alert the council to the cowboy builders.

Santender get worse and worse. Two branches in Guildford, one at the bottom of the High Street, one at the top. The top one has been gutted. Where are the cashiers? No cashiers, no money. Have to go to the bottom of the High Street if you want money. A bank that has no money.

By the time I trekked down the High Street, then visited the market, all the stalls packed up.

Oxfam Bookshop. The Alchemist, The Devil and Miss Prym and Revolution. I do wish Oxfam would stop ripping people off. Paperbacks £2-49, Revolution (hardback) £2-99. Elsewhere paperbacks are £2-00 or less. But sadly they do not care.

Castle Grounds read a chapter of Revolution.

Too noisy, one of the cowboy builders using a power wash to illegally wash all their muck into the public highway.

In the Castle Grounds, floral displays to mark 150 years Alice in Wonderland.

Excellent espresso in Harris + Hoole before they closed. One of the staff said Shaun was an excellent barista.

Independents for Frome

June 26, 2015

Frome is a small market town in Somerset, not far from Bristol.

Ordinary citizens decided they had had enough of political parties running their town council, decided to put up their own candidates under the banner of Independents for Frome. They took control of the town council.

That was five years ago. May 2015, they took all the seats on the council.

If they can do it, anyone can do it, you can do it.

A town council should be there to work with and on behalf of local people, to facilitate, not obstruct, to encourage participation of the locals in all the decision making, to be transparent.  All very obvious,and with which most people would agree. So why is it not happening?

To help others, they have written a book, Flatpack Democracy. Unfortunately it is not yet available as an e-book, which would ensure far wider distribution. ideally publish on leanpub, on pay-what-you-want basis.

We need a network of citizen controlled town and cities. It is already happening, Frome in Somerset, Athens in Greece, Barcelona, Madrid and Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

Quantitative Easing

June 25, 2015

£375 billion was poured into the UK economy, or to be correct, it was poured into the banks, those same banks that destroyed the UK economy. It pumped up the share market, lined the pocket of bankers and the rich.

We have an economic illiterate Chancellor of the Exchequer who cut money paid to the poor.

Giving money to the rich has negligible effect on the economy as there is a limit to the number of servants you can employ, the number of yachts, mansions, jets you can buy.

Handing money to the poor, even of they fritter it away on drink, drugs and widescreen TVs, is money spent in the economy.

The poor, by their very nature of being poor, are living on the edge, will spend extra money, as there is always a need, clothes that are worn out, household appliances that need repair or replacement, maybe even better food.

We could have increased welfare payments, given a  windfall, left money in the street, a lottery based upon National Insurance number, we could have given students grants for university fees.

The money could have been spent on infrastructure, on an improved nationalised railway, on locally owned and controlled local power grids, on books for libraries.

Lunch at Alexander’s

June 24, 2015
lunch at Alexander's

lunch at Alexander’s

Jimmy Bean had no food left and was packing up early.

Where to have lunch? Winchester lacks anywhere decent to eat.
Alexander’s. in the street before Ginger Two, which I have tried a couple of times and not been impressed.

A wide range of teas, but very poor choice of anything to eat.

I settled on tuna and avocado, a strange mix, but best of a poor choice.

I found it to be very dry. The avocado was not ripe. It was sliced. If ripe, it can be spread like butter.

Tuna and tomato, or onion, or cucumber, would have been better, as not so dry. Not helped by the bread being dry.

They has a couple of sandwiches on display. I said no thanks. Mine was freshly prepared.

Coffee was soorced from Extract Coffee Rasters. Having had a coffee from Jimmy Bean, I did not try.

Ambience was pleasant. Wooden tables, but spoilt by cheap plastic chairs.

Oxfam peanut butter

June 24, 2015
Liberation peanut butter

Liberation peanut butter

Oxfam does not only sell second books and clothes, usually overpriced, they also sell produce.

On sale peanut butter.  Plastic jar, padded out with sugar, palm oil, and salt.

Three additives that are extremely unhealthy. Palm oil  is high in saturated fat, so high, it is higher than pig fat. In its natural form, it is solid, and used to be used as axle grease. Until that is someone discovered how to chemically process it.

These ingredients are used to bulk out foods, because they are cheap.

Palm oil is not only on food, it is also widely used in cosmetics.

Palm oil apart from being bad for our health, is also bad for the environment. There is no such thing as sustainable palm oil production.

I took a jar to the counter and expressed my strong disgust. Not that they will care. Oxfam is another Big Business charity, its product aid.

I did not notice a Fairtrade logo, but at a  guess, it was part of the Fairtrade con.

I say Oxfam peanut butter. Strictly speaking it was Liberation peanut butter, and yes, it did have Fairtrade logo. But as we see with this one example Fairtrade is not synonymous with quality, health or good for the environment

If you this peanut butter on sale, please object,

If you see any product with palm oil, please object.

Quality peanuts butter is ground peanuts, nothing added, though occasionally you may find sea salt.

A a lady later in a health food shop said, it is a pity people do not pay more attention to what is on the label.

If you want quality peanut butter, look out for Meridian or Suma. If not on sale, ask why not.  Quality food shops will sell one or the other, sometimes both

Meridian peanut butter

Meridian peanut butter

Afternoon in Winchester

June 24, 2015
Winchester

Winchester

It could not have been a more pleasant day in Winchester, warm and sunny, but not unbearably hot.

I was in luck. I made the train with seconds to spare. At Alton I leapt off the train and made the bus.

A pleasant train journey once past Farnahm, and a pleasant bus journey (though towards the end the bus tiresome). I alighted off the bus last stop before the town centre, then a pleasant walk down the hill into Winchester.

I looked in the canteen of The Guildhall. Never anything worth eating.

The Guildhall mus hold the record for the poshest toilets in the country.

Horrified and disgusted by the peanut butter on sale in Oxfam shop. Cheap rubbish peanut butter, padded out with everything bad, sugar, palm oil, and salt. Quality peanust butter is ground peanuts nothing else, possibly with a  small amount of sea salt.

I found Jimmy Bean, he now only does Wednesdays. He is back to the battered old Citroen van. But unlucky for me, he had sold out of food and was packing up early.

Wednesday in Winchester is street food market, though nothing I would fancy. A good bread stall, a good cheeses stall, a fruit and vegetable stall, possibly the fish.

I had a chat with a man selling beer. They do miniature aluminium casks of beer. Can you bring them back, a deposit scheme maybe say one pound a keg. No. Wh?, Special plastic plug. Why not then change the design. Even if not re-used, a least the aluminium could be recycled.

Why are we so bloody backwards?

When I was a child, there was a refundable deposits on all bottles. We used to earn pocket money by knocking on doors and asking for their unreturned bottles. We took them to the local corner shop and got the deposits.

Where to eat. In the absence of Jimmy Bean, Winchester lacks anywhere decent to eat.

I have tried Ginger Two a couple of times, not impressed.

In the street before, Alexander’s. It was very much like Ginger Two. Pleasant wooden tables, but spoilt by cheap plastic chairs. They need to throw these out and get decent wooden chairs. A few tables were covered with sheet metal. Not very well done,and things slid across the table.

I had a tuna and avocado sandwich (there was not much choice). I found it to be very dry, and the bread dry too. The avocado was not ripe enough and had to be sliced. Avocado needs to be ripe, it is then soft and can be spread like butter.

I caught the food shop next door before it closed. Had an interesting conversation with the owner. Like me, she was disgusted with the peanut butter on sale in Oxfam but like me not surprised. I suggested read This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein (author of No Logo and Shock Doctrine). I also suggested Flatpack Democracy, describing citizen activism in Frome. Had I thought of it, I would also have recommended Revolution.

She said come one evening and give a talk. I said yes, but only later did I think, last bus 1850.

By now 6-15,  too late for a walk along the river and into the countryside.

I along down the River Itchen, where it forms the Roman defensive boundary to the city. I was going to turn back but realised I just had time to go on a circular route through the back streets behind the cathedral.

A little corner shop has watercress soup. Expensive but ok for occasional treat. Not in stock, was not last time I  asked.

Cathedral has flower festival, but ten pound entrance fee.

Stalls behind the cathedral. Did they really have to lay artificial grass. It seemed a mini-version of the Christmas Market.

Winchester Cathedral has degenerated into a vulgar money spinning enterprise. An unpleasant contrast with the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. In front of the cathedral a huge  advertising billboard, ruining the view of the cathedral.

I made the bus with a couple of minutes to spare.

The train at Alton was pulling out as the bus approached the station.

I decided to eat at the Station Cafe with the bikers, then missed the next train.

M&S Aldershot to close

June 23, 2015
M&S Aldershot  to close

M&S Aldershot to close

Marks & Spencer is to join a growing list of High Street retailers to pull out of failing Aldershot town centre.

If nothing else, it explains why the broken front door has not been fixed.

M&S is not a social enterprise, it is a capitalist enterprise. It is a failing retailer.

It has no interest in Aldershot other than what money it can extract.

Why should it consult? The local council does not consult, why therefore expect Big Business to consult?

A simple rational decision will have been taken. Is the store losing money, or not making enough money? If yes, it will be closed.

A highly misleading headline in the local comic, the usual shoddy journalism. Jobs are not at risk. Jobs are being offered elsewhere. Whether same hours, same salary, convenient to get to, is a different matter. In terms of work locations, Guildford far more pleasant town to work than Aldershot.

For the local council to describe as a ‘bolt out of the blue’, only shows how out of touch with reality the local council.

The surprise is not that M&S Aldershot is closing, the surprise is that it did not close years ago.

Let us assume for a moment, no M&S in Aldershot. Would they open in Aldershot? A resounding no. They would take one look at a run down town, and walk away. Tacky fast food outlets, pound shops, gambling joints, little footfall on the street, the demographic of those on the streets, all are reason why M&S would not open in Aldershot.

The decision of M&S to close is a massive vote of no confidence, not only in Aldershot, but also the local council. It is also what local people have been doing for years, voting with their feet and going elsewhere.

Aldershot (and Farnborough) have suffered decades of bad planning decisions.

Wastegate, draws the centre of retail gravity away from the town centre. The net result is shops like M&S close.

That an unwanted urban development, with all the stress on the local infrastructure is taking place nearby, does not mean people will go into Aldershot. If they have the means, they will do as everyone else does, go elsewhere.

Is M&S Aldershot closure a one off, or part of a wider restructuring by M&S?

The closure of M&S, will give people one less reason to shop in Aldershot. It will be M&S Guildford or Waitrose Farnham.

£4.5 million is in the main being poured down the drain in Aldershot.

We have lost the mature trees in Union Street.

The work in the High Street and Grosvenor Road a complete waste of money.

Buses and lorries now have great difficulty in entering Grosvenor Road.

Grosvenor Road was only resurfaced last summer. Now being dug up, the pavement widened. Why, there is nothing in Grosvenor Road, no footfall.

One plus of the work, is that Union Street has been closed for over six months, traffic free. A more pleasant environment, more people on the street late afternoon. And yet there are no plans to make Union Street permanently closed to traffic.

There is a need to build a lorry bay at the back of 99p Stores (former Woolworth) to enable lorries to park and deliver to the shops by handcart.

There needs to be a pedestrian crossing across Grosvenor Road connecting Upper Union Street to Union Street.

All these measures, which would make positive improvement to the town centre environment, are known to the council, councillors, town centre manager.

Why are they not being implemented?

The Galleries sits empty. It should never have been built. Yet another example of crass planning decisions by a dysfunctional council with no understanding of town centre planning.

A lot of hand wringing, hot air, but no realistic solutions.

The Galleries sits empty. Well not quite, walk past WHSmith and find TechStart. A social enterprise that renovates old computers.

And that gives a clue to what could be done with The Galleries. A network of mutually supporting social enterprises, open co-ops, run by volunteers serving the local community, retaining and recycling money within the local economy.

Open a social enterprise restaurant, take in produce that would otherwise be destroyed, turn into delicious meals, pay what you want. Better than food banks as lacks the stigma, and better quality diet.

Social enterprise cafes are springing up across the country. Run by volunteers, they intercept food waste and turn into delicious meals on a pay-what-you-can-afford basis. Even if people pay nothing, they stop the food going to waste, and they may wish to give something back by helping out. Better than food banks as without the social stigma and do not require referrals and far more nutritious diet. Food banks isolate people from society, social enterprise cafes draw people back in, provide them with a role.

Open a FabLab, expertise, machines to use. In Barcelona, the intention is to have a FabLab in every district of the city.

A swap shop. Tools to use.

A repair shop, where people can take literally anything and learn how to repair.

Starter units for small businesses to try out an idea. Start-ups, six months to try out an idea (possibility of an extension),  build up a customer base. The pop up shops in Aldershot were a farce. What can anyone do with two weeks? Which is why all they had was tat.

Community Shop. Stock on sale at a third of what you would normally pay. A community supermarket is looking for new locations. Aldershot is ideal.

The businesses and enterprises would network, support each other, many would overlap.

It would require peppercorn rents. If the property company refuses to play ball, serve a Compulsory Purchase Order.

Council is aware, has done nothing to pursue.

The Saturday market has proved to be a disaster. There was no consultation with either stallholders, retailers or people on the street. Last Saturday, half a dozen stalls if that, few people on the street. At the end of the day, the fruit and vegetable stall left with unsold produce.

The markets are seen as a council cash cow, rather than what is best for the markets, what is best for the town centre.

Writing in the latest issue of the local council comic Arena (Summer 2015), the leader of the council claims the Saturday market a success.

Both our town centres have also been boosted with the addition of a Saturday market in Aldershot and a Sunday market in Farnborough, with preliminary results encouraging.

So encouraging, stallholders are already pulling out and others considering their position.

Does he believe his own lies? Or does he think the public are stupid?

It will take more than a new sign

June 22, 2015
Aldershot shopping centre new sign

Aldershot shopping centre new sign

It will take more than a fancy new sign to improve Aldershot’s grotty shopping centre.

Listed as one of the top crime spots in the country.

Police say this is down to extra policing, thus recording extra crime.

But why would there be extra patrols unless there was a problem?

The problem is in the street.

But I have never seen police patrols.

The grotty centre is dire, and best avoided.

Only worth a visit is TechStart, a social enterprise renovating old computers in the dead zone past WHSmith.

250,000 people attended the anti-austerity rally in London on Saturday. Not a single arrest.

Lunch at Caffe Macchiato

June 22, 2015
menu pollo boscaiola

menu pollo boscaiola

Pollo buscaiola

Pollo buscaiola

side salad

side salad

Excellent lunch today at Caffe Macchiato.

Pollo buscaiola, breast of chicken cooked with wine, peppers, served with porcini mushrooms in a garlic and tomato sauce, chips and a side salad.

The side salad, similar to a Greek salad. It was topped with olives which I cannot stand. The waitress took away and removed the olives and brought the salad back, minus olives.

I would have preferred served with English or Jersey new potatoes rather than chips, nevertheless the chips were good.

Portion size generous. More than sufficient for two people. I was hungry, but was struggling to clean my plate.

Everything freshly cooked with fresh ingredients.

Caffe Macchiato is an Italian restaurant at the top end of Union Street. The only attractive building in the street.

Union Street was an attractive tree-lined street, pleasant to sit outside Caffe Macchiato on a warm afternoon. All the trees have been cut down and uprooted, leaving an unpleasant stark urban street.

For the last six months, traffic has been blocked from the pedestrianised street whilst work takes place. This needs to be made permanent, as the absence of traffic has much improved the street.

Aldershot is infamous for its disgusting fast food outlets that dominate the town centre, that and pound shops, gambling joints and boarded-up empty shops. Caffe Macchiato is a rarity being the only decent place to eat in Aldershot. Indeed it is even worth making a trip to Aldershot.

End of last year an idiot left a very nasty review on TripAdvisor claiming poor service, unpleasant staff, not freshly cooked or fresh ingredients. Nothing could be further from than the truth.  TripAdvisor needs to do more to eliminate fake reviews.

Free newspapers, wifi.

The walls are used as an art gallery. Worth a visit for the art.

Occasional live music in the evening.

Shame on Trussell Trust

June 22, 2015

Shame on Trussell Trust who pay their employees so badly that they have to rely upon tax credits to top up their wages.

I mentioned today to a Trussell Trust manager she would be seeing a sharp increase in demand for food banks, as David Cameron had strongly hinted abolition of tax credits.

To my surprise, she said she would be affected as she was reliant upon tax credits to top up her wages.

Now this is to be expected from KFC, McDonald’s and other bad employers, but should not we expect better standards from Trussell Trust as the country’s biggest providers of food banks?

Actually probably not.

The number of Trussell Trust food banks has risen eight-fold in just five years, to 445. Its most recent accounts show an annual income of nearly £3.4 million.

Many of those dependent upon food banks, are caused by the arbitrary sanctions being handed out by Job Centres.

A question mark though needs to be raised against the Trussell Trust.

For the Trussell Trust, food banks have become Big Business. Their recent claim of a million people dependent upon food banks has proved to be false. They have handed out a million food parcels, not quite the same thing.

But it gets worse, they have been charging local volunteers and churches what amounts to little more than franchising fees, £1,500 to set up food banks. telling them the money is needed for ‘branding and PR’ and ongoing fees of £350 a year.

The pitch to prospective punters says:

We’ll provide you with all the tools, training and know-how that you need to start a foodbank so that people in crisis in your town don’t have to go hungry.

They are told they will be given a website, publicity materials and ‘opportunities to talk to the Press’ among other benefits.

Foodbanks are asked to make a £1,500 donation towards these costs.