Poem: This Week’s Snow

This Week’s Snow

It buried all beneath a
blanket of little white lies,
each flake guilty of
momentarily erasing
all our broken truths – a
cracked road, a crumbled
wall, the spill of yesterday’s
life from an up-turned bin –
and in communion with
the great pretence of
all things clean and new.

And even as we danced like
mad and, with joy, like children,
made our own untruths – to
stay away and steal a day –
we knew our feet would scuff
and press and churn to ruin,
that brightest white would
turn to grey and, once more,
with sudden chill, we recalled
the lies we tell, how snow is
never liquid paper for the soul.

Poem: The Promise

I debated putting this up. I wasn’t going to dip into the back catalogue. However, I wrote this a couple of years ago and was reminded of it by a weather forecast promising snow. It was also written at the turning of the year and so I can still plead New Year.

Snow creates a momentary illusion of a new world, a blank canvas on which to write the day and as a child I always thought that it lay for weeks. In truth, it only lay for days and, as with many things, my recollections benefit from a gloriously over-active imagination.

Still, even now, my heart skips a beat when I wake to blanket of snow and everything looks pristine. Childish, perhaps, but as C. S. Lewis wrote: “When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

The Promise

In a curious loneliness of friends,
despite the quiet regard of strangers,
we beg our days – so fast and few – not fade,
but lie, like snow, the virgin fall that sings
audacious promise and begs us step into
a world renewed, where scars are hid and
tired paths are lost to love’s adventure.

In the coldest reckoning of our hours,
as frosts are whispered through our night,
I crave the comfort of your creased smile,
the shudder of your aching limbs,
your weary arms that give up the promise
of your quickening, breaking, bleeding heart:
the safer silence of another year.

Arrogance and disregard for the taxpayer: Hanningfield’s latest wheeze as Essex freezes #toryfail #snow

The sheer arrogance of Lord Hanningfield is unbelievable.

The leader of Essex County Council clearly thinks he is running his own version of Essex Bank, rather than leading an elected local authority. The latest venture from the Bank of Essex – surely the greatest testament to personal ego of any initiative in local government in recent years – is to offer a £100,000 overdraft facility to eligible businesses.

Excuse me?

Admitting you are no longer capable of running public services and handing them wholesale to IBM is one thing, but doing so as you extend the commercial operations of a bank that only exists because of your elected mandate is something entirely different. At no point do I recall my local successful candidate at the County Council Election, Cllr John Schofield, informing voters that he intended to be a party to such speculation with public funds: public funds provided by hard-working Council Tax payers.

According to the Frequently Asked Questions on the Banking on Essex website, all profits from the venture will be used to cover potential losses and protect taxpayers’ funds.

Where has Lord Hanningfield been for the last eighteen months?

Banks with a hundred-year tradition of providing commercial services haven’t been able to get this right in the current economic climate. How on earth can taxpayers have any confidence that self-aggrandising politicians will succeed where self-aggrandising bankers failed? More importantly, how can politicians, with little or no experience at running a bank, guarantee that the profits will cover the losses? I am not sure that assuring voters that you are working in partnership with a large banking organisation gives much confidence these days…

I suppose you could have a little more confidence if some care was taken with the presentation. However, that is clearly no concern for this commercial operation. Here is how the guarantee appears in the Banking on Essex FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) at the time of writing:

“Will the initiative put tax payers’ money at risk?
The County Council is using all additional income earned to cover potential loses [sic] and protect tax payers’ funds.”

The italics are mine.

Essex is the Education Authority.

Essex is also attempting to generate a sense of commercial confidence.

The example above demonstrates why politicians should put their determination to write themselves into history to one side and stick to what they were elected to do: represent the interests of the people who put them in office.

Here is a reminder for Conservative councillors  John Schofield and Lord Hanningfield of matters that should be the priority for Essex County Council over the next few weeks:

Path to hospital at junction of Nethermayne and the Knares, 24 December 2009

Path to hospital, 24 December 2009

These two pictures were taken of the main footpath to the principal site of Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals on Christmas Eve 2009 – exactly one week after the heavy snow falls that caused chaos in South Essex. It was still iced over even when the snow on surrounding banks had melted and the roads had been gritted.

In the NHS Foundation Trust’s own words:

[We] primarily serve the almost 400,000 population of Basildon and Thurrock in South West Essex, plus some residents of the neighbouring districts of Brentwood (for whom we are the main provider of cardiology services) and Castle Point.

With a annual budget of £250 million, the Trust treats 63,000 inpatients and day cases, provides 270,000 outpatients consultations and attends to more than 90,000 Accident and Emergency (A&E) patients.

And pictured just above is the path people had to walk to reach that hospital, should they not be fortunate enough to drive a car.

I met an elderly constituent of mine as I walked to town that Thursday. He was incandescent. He is usually a charming conversationalist, but that day he had only three words for me as he gestured unsteadily with his walking stick at the ice: “It is wicked”.

The Basildon Recorder was forced by Essex County Council to issue an apology when it ran a story criticising the county for inadequate salt supplies. Apparently, there is no shortage:

“The county council would like to assure residents that Essex County Council continues to be fully prepared for icy winter conditions with more than sufficient supplies of gritting salt for the bad weather.”

So if there was no shortage, I can only assume that Essex County Council simply doesn’t care about pedestrian access to the major health facility in the south of the county. Surely, if there was salt, and it gave a stuff, Essex would have taken the time to grit this major pedestrian route? Winter 2008/2009 saw the highest excess winter mortality rates for ten years. It is hard to believe that figure will be lower for 2009/2010 if this Winter is harsher. Respiratory illnesses are just one set of conditions that are exacerbated by conditions in the winter months. (If you are really interested, there is a superb paper on the website of of the Centre for Public Health at the Liverpool John Moores University entitled Weather forecasting as a Public Health Tool). People need to be able to get to hospital – and that includes by foot.

This is the Met Office weather warning for the East of England, for Tuesday 5th January, issued on Monday 4th January:

“There is a moderate risk of severe weather affecting east and southeast England.

Outbreaks of sleet and snow will become heavier during Tuesday afternoon and evening, with an increasing risk of disruption to transport networks.

Issued at: 1124 Mon 4 Jan”

Sky News is warning Heavy Snow Set to Bring More Travel Chaos.

The question I have is: will Essex County Council heed the warnings and make an effort to ensure that key footpaths are snow and ice free this time around?

To finish, three simple things:

Stop throwing the taxes of hard-working local people at self-indulgent, speculative schemes.

Stop criticising the press for reflecting local concerns.

Start delivering a basic level of service: grit our roads and footpaths, especially where they provide access to major facilities such as hospitals.

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Snow and trains and First Class grimness

So Em and I paid the difference to travel first class because it’s nice to have a quiet space before returning to London. (It’s also cheaper to travel first when booked early than it is to travel standard off-peak booked nearer the day. Go figure.)

We don’t do it, however, to listen to some chav family shrieking at the top of their voices for the ENTIRE journey.

Gruesome bunch. Like the Royle family on acid.

Yes. It’s snow. Yes, it is snowing heavily. We have snow down south too.

No. Harry shouldn’t be running up and down the carriage. No. He really shouldn’t. AT ALL.

Parenting skills much?

And now, according to the nice lady on the intercom, the points are frozen. We are stuck here together a little longer. This is my punishment for blogging about them.

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Of snow, roads and hopeless Tory County Council incompetence

I woke yesterday morning to the stunning sight of snow lying on the fields of the Lincolnshire Wolds. It had been barely more than a dusting when I had looked out of the window on the previous evening. The snow was thick on the road, too. The A16 snakes viciously past the village of Swaby, racing past the small row of houses where Em’s family live and on towards Louth. 4″ of snow is quite a sight:

Snow on the A16, Dec 19 2009

But hang on a minute. The A16 is the main road between Boston and Grimsby. It is the sort of rural A-road that wannabe Colin McRaes careen around in lunatic fashion, dodging the articulated lorries that stream steadily from end to end. It is the sort of rural A-road that Lincolnshire County Council have quite sensibly designated as a “Red Route”. What is a Red Route? It’s a road where there is a higher than average chance that you might get to answer some of life’s more profound questions should you be behind the wheel of a car. Particularly if your latest X-Box 360° or iPhone fix is Need for Speed™ SHIFT.

You can read more about Red Routes here on a page of the Lincolnshire County Council’s website reassuringly subtitled “A survival guide to Lincolnshire’s roads”. Apparently, car users represent a far higher proportion of those casualties recorded as KSI (Killed and Seriously Injured)  in Lincolnshire – a frightening  64%, compared to the national average of 46%.  If you are interested, you can read more about it here.

So. Red Routes. Dangerous. Particularly at speed.

Here – for the benefit of Lincolnshire’s Tory County Councillors – are some elementary facts about snow and its effects. It is usually forecast by the Met Office. It makes roads slippery. Slippery roads are dangerous roads. Red Route roads are dangerous roads that get a whole lot more dangerous.

So why is it that the cretins at County Hall (Lincolnshire) have yet to chuck a single piece of grit on sections of the A16 marked out as accident hot spots?

After last year and “The Great Grit Crisis” of 2008, you might expect a County Council that is looking out for the welfare of local residents, and which has access to the BBC Weather like the rest of us, to be a little quicker off the mark with the gritters than never. However, it was only after frustrated police demanded a snow plough be sent out that the A16 became vaguely usable.

As I am writing, with temperatures well below freezing, I hear the occasional rumble of wary drivers trundling past on the snow-covered unlit A16. I have yet to hear the reassuring rattle of a gritter. The prospect of the complacent uselessness of Lincolnshire County Council writ large if Cameron’s Tories win power at Westminster is truly frightening.

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