Sunday, 2 October 2011

Our New Arst Building - Firstsite

I went to have a look at the new Firstsite building today with my temporarily wheelchair bound wife. The yellow line fiends had not yet done their worst on the approach road so we were able to park for free, right outside the door. So that was a nice start. A very hot day too and the chance to get into the air conditioned building was another bonus. We had a nice welcome from the security chappie and the staff giving out exhibition guides. We loved the whole experience. We started with some breakfast outside on the terrace of the cafeteria which was priced high enough to deter the riff-raff, was nicely cooked and good to eat. We enjoyed a view of the newly grassed area leading down to the town wall with rooftops in the distance. The only bad bit of the view was the smelly old bus station that will soon, hopefully, be gone. Then in to have a look at the building proper and the exhibits, having first sat and read what was on offer. Something for everybody we thought. We were naturally underwhelmed by some of what passes for art nowadays, but very pleased with most of the exhibits, particularly the Colchester history themed items, the 1909 Colchester Pageant, the Oyster Feast, the linked picture display, etc. A nice shop and learning rooms. I had already used the auditorium so already knew that it was another excellent feature of the building. Externally, what has already been done looks very attractive, with a lovely view of St James the Great church, Hill House, etc. An interesting opaque lampost, presented as a piece of art, too. The whole experience was good and all the more so as it compliments Colchester's existing visitor attractions so well. As my mate Wendy has already said, 'it has had a difficult birth, but now is time to kiss its bottom'. I was one of the building's strongest opponents at the beginning, as I did not like the design chosen or the lack of a democratic process. However, we now have our new arts building, like it or not. It is here to stay and I, for one, will give it my full support. My main disappointment perhaps was the presentation of the Berryfield mosaic; which only goes to prove that you cannot please all of the people all of the time.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

The Firstsite Visual Arts Facility

Well! I received an invitation to attend the awards ceremony of Colchester in Bloom at our new arts building yesterday. I have been watching the building's progress over the past years and listening to and reading the comments being made about it from the usual suspects, who ceaselessly whine about things generally. What a waste of money, money could be better spent, what about our bus station, etc. etc. sort of thing. Well! Now we have our new arts building. It is an incredible building and, although I have only seen it in its almost-ready state, I was very impressed and very optimistic about its future. The auditorium especially is superb and I hope, one day, to give one of my talks there. So I will come clean and admit that I opposed the design of the building from the outset. I wanted a Roman temple styled building for Colchester. This is anything but that. I shall now watch with interest how it fares and to learn whether one Andy Hamilton ever sets foot inside the place.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Jumbo

As somebody who offered several thousand pounds to the Balkerne Tower Trust towards acquiring Jumbo, a few years ago, I feel I have a say in this matter. From memory the trust only raised around £20k towards the purchase, when Mr Braithwaite bought it for over £330k. The trust's campaign was a total failure and reflected the lack of interest of the majority of Colcestrians in public ownership. Those that now whine about making it a tourist attraction must be delusional. To do so would need the money to be raised to buy it from the owner - were he willing to sell it - and the wherewitall to run it at an inevitable loss. So where would that money come from then? I am fed up with the council's procrastination over this matter. I wish Mr Braithwaite every success with his plans and look forward to Jumbo being once again a landmark that we can all be proud of. At the moment it is a decaying eyesore. It will never be a water tower again. Indeed, was it ever used as such to its full capacity? The latest plans for its conversion are sympathetic to the building, as those that converted Berechurch church were. Where was the outcry about that I wonder? The basic structure will not be affected to any major degree (apart from some glazing replacing some of the tank shell). The Victorian structure will always be on view. For heaven's sake, let's get Colchester into the 21st century and kick these whining nimby dinosaurs, who oppose anybody with a bit of modern vision, Buntings, the VAF, etc. for example, into this century.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

The British Pub - Its future!

Sadly, the pub is gradually dying out as a British institution. We are going the way of Europe with demand for places where everybody can go for a drink and a meal - and who's to say that is a bad thing? The difference between us and the more socially adept Europeans is that we have a nasty element among us who want to get drunk, to threaten people, to eff and blind and generally show the British to be a backward and immoral race. People want to take their children into our pubs and it is at the owners discretion whether he allows it. I have no time for those who also want to smoke in pubs as that is pure anti-sociability. My suggestion to you all is to use what pubs we have left, especially the good ones. Sadly the bad ones will die through no fault other than the managements. The law cannot be changed back to the rose-tinted times of the past, nor should it. Supermarkets have been given the right to sell cheap booze. That cannot be taken away from them, any more than we should go back to stigmatising single mothers, homosexuals, spongers, the work-shy, etc. We have made our bed so now we need to lie on it.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

A John Lewis Store in Colchester

From my point of view I see Colchester's future as one based on tourism, culture, entertainment, food and drink - and quality shopping. I don't want any big stores inside the town and believe that the likes of John Lewis should all be out of town, on a site comparable (and competing) with Braintree's Freeport. We need to attract people of all sorts to Colchester, to our shopping parks at Tollgate, to our quality small shops in the town centre, to the Castle and our museums, to the VAF and other art based locations, to the zoo, our hotels and restaurants, to Leisure World, etc. We all know that Colchester cannot handle car traffic at all well. So the Tollgate style shopping area makes the shopping experience attractive to car driving shoppers, especially if there is a Park and Ride facility as well to compliment, rather than compete with, our shops. There is huge potential for all types of visitors to our town, yet we get this petty political squabbling over the scraps. Like the old bull and the young bull. Rather than rush in and have a few of the heifers, take your time, stroll in and have the lot!”

Tymperleys

Times are hard and they are going to get a lot harder. People don't seem to realise that. Keeping Tymperleys open costs a lot of money and that money has to be earned rather than funded from our taxes. Sadly, Colchester cannot earn that money because it has failed as a tourist destination. All it is interested in is getting visitors to visit the castle where they can earn some money and to get visitors to pay high parking charges to get access to the consequently dwindling shops. It cannot be a mere coincidence that they have closed both our clock museum and our social history museum, both well away from the Castle Museum. At the same time the council pats itself on the back for what a good job it is doing. A total lack of vision! Let's throw them all out and put businessmen and townsfolk in place that have the necessary vision to bring Colchester back from the brink. Let's learn lessons from other top tourist locations.”

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Colchester Man - The Camilla DNA Project


What fun! A project has been started that hopes to show a DNA connection between living Colcestrians and those people whose skeletons were uncovered in the 1980's during an archaeological dig at the Roman period graveyard around Butt Road. What fun! It would seem that the female to female line will prove the connection - if there is one - as the type of DNA that is needed only passes from mother to daughter. Girl Power!

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Lack of Jobs for our Young People

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The last Labour government screwed the country good and proper. We can't afford all the non-jobs in the public service. We need to be making a profit through industry so that the service industry can be feeding off it. Look at what we import and set about making it ourselves. I could do so much more and expand if the workforce was there and there were incentives to open up new workshops. I had to turn down some nice work last year because I couldn't do the work in the required time slot. I didn't have the labour or the facilities - and don't make me laugh about the bank's willingness to help. Yet what are they teaching our kids at school? Very little as far as I can see.
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I need people in my industry, in engineering. We have kids coming out of school quite incapable of basic maths or writing ability or, in many cases, verbal ability. We need skilled workers and we are getting them from Europe instead of from our own people. Added to that the high cost of business units, rent, rates, human rights and all that old bollocks that makes a small businessman like me very reluctant to take anybody on. I got turned down to do work for the Olympics because I didn't have something called an equal opportunities policy. Sorry. A one armed welder is no use to me. Icould have downloaded a form so that some public sector jobsworth could tick a box. Were I to download the form, I would be supporting the PC rubbish that brought this daft piece of legislation into being in the first place. What happened to plain old common sense? I have no interest in knowing whether somebody is gay or lesbian or whatever else I am supposed to deal with. Can they do the bloody job and are they willing to work? So I end up doing work for a Spanish company that is on the Olympics supplier's list and who sub-contracted the work out to people like me.
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In my day as an apprentice in the 1960's/70's I benefited from proper maths, technical drawing and metal work at school. Nowadays, schools teach maths that it is of no practical use in the real world and the very thought of using a lathe or a drill simply won't happen in case one of the little dears hurts themselves and the parents sue the school. Now I am approaching retirement, who can I pass on my knowledge to? I am not big enough to take on an apprentice. Our industry has gone. The Lathe Company and Paxmans and Woods of Colchester, all sold out to the property speculator. Betts, Bracketts, Ozalid, Dynapert, Regulators Europa, Mohler, etc. All those jobs lost for short term financial gain.
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....and now we are carping on about there being no jobs for our young people. Cameron and Co are sitting pretty but with no prospect of new industry creation. Meanwhile we are bringing unskilled migrants and their dependant families in by the drove, huge ghettoisation of our once proud industrial cities, the NHS and benefits culture all under a strain that this country cannot afford to pay for. Our benefits system makes it unnecessary to work any more. What hope for the future?
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Only this morning I heard that Barclays only paid 2.5% in Corporation Tax on its profits. How'd they do that then?
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Don't start me off!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

2200 New Homes for Colchester

I went for a walk with Bob Russell, MP for Colchester, on New Year's Day, along with about 30 others. I was curious to see where the proposed housing was to be located in the Mile End area. It had seemed to be a crazy idea when I first heard about it, so I was naturally curious about the whole thing.
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The first thing that struck me was the vastness of the site, all unspoiled, beautiful, wooded, farmland. A huge swathe from Cants rose growing fields to the north, adjacent to the small roundabout at the top of Mile End Road, all the way down to the back of Bergholt Road, Prior Way, Hugh Dickson Road, etc. The second thing that I noticed, as we walked onto the farmland, was the noise from the A12. Who would want to live in housing so close to all that noise? I know how bad it is in Stanway, Halstead Road, Peace Road, etc. It's terrible. The third thing that struck me was that this would become something like another Greenstead; a huge housing estate of, without doubt, small, gardenless, multi-storeyed dwellings. How will they cope with the services, the sewage, the drainage, etc? What about the vehicle traffic, schools for the children, pubs, shops, community centres, etc? A development of this magnitude will have all these needs.
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The land, I understand, all belongs to the Cant family. No more roses from that once famous company. The Cant family presumably stand to make a huge profit from this agricultural land, as I don't suppose for one minute that they are selling it at agricultural land prices. If this gigantic enterprise does go ahead, it will be a rape of our wonderful countryside. A tragic loss of landscape, wildlife, cultural heritage and way of life for the people of Colchester - and Mile End, in particular.
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Surely this cannot be right. If we must have new housing on this scale, why concentrate it all in one place? There are so many other locations across the whole borough where new housing can be built with minimal impact, where existing farmers or other landowners could sell a bit of land perhaps; where smaller independant builders can take on smaller, affordable, projects and where the quality and architectural diversity that that would bring would make Colchester so much more attractive to both inhabitants, migrants and visitors alike.
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This is clearly an ugly business, a dubious piece of planning work, where only the big boys will profit and Colchester will be the loser. Stop it now, before it is too late. For goodness sake, let's knock the heads together of these idiot planners and thereby bring about a sensible decision for what Colchester's needs really are.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The ongoing Roman Circus saga


Back in 2004 archaeologists realised that the bits of Roman masonry, that they had been uncovering over the years, formed a neat and very long line. What could it mean? The only known Roman Circus in Britain had been discovered. Six years has passed since that incredible discovery. What have we done about it?
Like any unique find of this type, we realised its immense potential for putting Colchester on the heritage map and we took steps to tell the world about what we had found, to display and interprete this fantastic archaeological find, we built a museum and visitor centre to accommodate the thousands of people who came to Colchester to see this remarkable site. Colchester became the No 1 heritage destination in Britain with schools, families, oversees visitors and academics alike, all flocking to the oldest recorded town in Britain - the place where British civilisation began - to see all that we had. Special plans were made to welcome the thousands of vistors who were to come to Britain for the 2012 Olympics; to make Colchester a 'must see' destination.
One can but dream.
What did we actually do? Absolutely nothing perhaps? Surely not?
Surely we made a basic effort of putting up some signs to show visitors and townsfolk where the circus lay? No! Not one sign or road name change.
Surely we took steps to bring the site into public ownwership and to protect it against future housing development. No! If it wasn't for English Heritage hurriedly making the find a Scheduled Ancient Monument, we would have houses built all over it by now. Many of our councillors didn't even know that it had been classified a SAM, such was the lack of interest at the Town Hall. Essex County Council and Colchester Borough Council made no attempts to acquire the site or to assist others to acquire the site. They even overturned a previously set 10 metre exclusion zone ruling that prevented house building encroaching on the circus location, such was their lack of interest.
So, it was left to the people of Colchester to do something about it. A public appeal was set up to work with the Colchester Archaeological Trust, to buy a building known as the Sergeants Mess, the gardens of which held the site of the circus starting gates. Thousands of people contributed. Money that a little boy was saving to buy a rabbit was given to cause. The owners of the building refused to sell the garden land without the building. The building was Grade II listed and had been severely vandalised, yet no enforcement order has ever been made to make the owners repair their building. Anybody who bought the building would have to do the repairs at their own cost, on top of the ridiculously high £750k asking price. Added to that, there were no water or electricity or gas services. All would need to be provided at considerable cost. The public appeal raised the required £250k and various other contributors and partners made the purchase possible. However, the bureaucrats put stumbling block after stumbling block in the way and, after key partners pulled out, the appeal had to finally admit defeat, after working so hard to acquire the site.
What is absolutely clear is that the relevant county and borough councils could have resolved this matter very easily. They chose not to. What other place in the UK would treat such a remarkable heritage site as this, in such a way? The mind boggles at our complete lack of vision! May history judge us.

Interesting times ahead!

I have not written here for some time so I have some catching up to do. So much is going on in Colchester at the moment. The VAF is nearing completion, the Roman Circus campaign has taken a knock, our High Street is on its way to pedestrianisation, the Cultural Quarter plans are awaking, Mile End is threatened with masses of new housing, government cuts are hitting hard and the way of life that we have become accustomed-to is under threat, the Chelmsford/Colchester political divide continues, with Colchester being the loser. As the outgoing government said in a note to the new incumbent of the treasury, 'There is no money left. We spent it all!' Interesting times ahead.

The Romans left these shores in AD410, exactly 1600 years ago. So a group of us walked the walls of Colchester on Boxing Day, some of us dressed in Roman soldier attire. Was this the first time that it had occurred in 1600 years, one wonders? Romans walking the walls I mean!

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Officer's Mess Destruction

Another blaze in one of our heritage buildings. Surprise or not? From my recent memory, the Recreation Hotel, Severalls Concert Hall, the Flying Fox pub, the Bell at Old Heath - to name but a few and now joined by the Officer's Mess. What have they all got in common? Are they all owned by people who would have rather liked them to be wiped from the face of the earth so that they could build bigger and more valuable buildings on the site? In the case of the latest example of a suspicious fire, is it a fair assumption that it was fully insured? All these questions. But the biggest question must be, 'Have the police ever caught the person responsible?'

Friday, 9 July 2010

Back Stabbers

I can't help but notice that the back stabbing is still going on at the Town Hall between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. Anybody would think that we don't have a coalition of the two in Westminster despite it seemingly working very well. Much to the annoyance of the failed Labour destructionists, they are a happy team. But not in Colchester. Why is that?

Heritage Madness

Well. They all seem to be getting in on the heritage bandwagon at the moment. Yesterday's Gazette was lamenting the loss of the Hythe - only 50 years too late. We have let it all go to the wall, we knocked down the old buildings and built flats all over it, we stopped dredging the river, etc. and then we complain about what has happened. Last night in the Town Hall we had a bunch who want to be friends of the Roman Wall. So what about the rest of Roman Colchester? Another lot of fantasists want to bury Southway and restore our lost historic streets and various other pie in the sky ideas that have about as much chance of happening as finding some rocking-horse poo. That little exercise alone seems to have been at public expense. Then there is another bunch who want the Gosbecks Dog Walkers Park to be turned into an archaeology theme park of some sort. That could have been done 15 years ago when the money was there to do it. Since then the council have spent the money elsewhere and don't like to be reminded of it. It strikes me that we have tried to close the stable door after the horse has bolted. The damage has already been done. Oliver Cromwell started the ball rolling when he knocked big holes in our walls and chunks off our priory and churches. Colchester Borough Council seem to have carried on where Cromwell left off. It's too late. The damage is done. Why bother?

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Cloud Cuckoo Land!

I am pleased that an outside group (Save Britain's Heritage) has seen fit to comment on Colchester's heritage (Essex County Standard 2nd July 2010). Third party opinion, good or bad, should be a good thing and will hopefully stimulate discussion. The crackpot ideas of burying Southway and Balkerne Hill, bringing back trams, allowing historic streets to be reinstated (!!!!!), demolishing the beautiful telecom building, etc, are in cloud cuckoo territory. How many billions would that cost our bankrupt council I wonder? It seems to have ignored our World Heritage Site potential - which is probably a good thing on reflection. Just imagine what they would have made of that! We could rebuild the missing bits of our Roman walls or knock the castle down and re-instate the Temple of Claudius. Where on earth Damacus is, I have no idea. It repeats the word twice so it must be a well kept secret. Wherever it is we compare with it. Sorry but, as you probably guess, I am not impressed. Very amateurish. It could and should have been done so much better.

VAF

You kinda know that things are going well when bus drivers complain about the glare from the new cladding of our new arts building, known by me as the visual arts fiasco. Is that the best they can come up with? I hated the thing from the start and was not alone. I hated even more the process that we have been forced to endure during its construction. But now that it is taking shape, I have mellowed. I quite like what I am seeing. It really does look very impressive. The aerial view that I saw in the local rag really shows its potential. Now I cannot wait to get rid of the scruffy bus park and to see the landscaping under way and to join all the other curmudgeons on my first visit to the finished building. Although what they are going to put inside it is quite another matter!

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Colchester to be a World Heritage Site?

A bunch of local people known collectively as destination Colchester, working alone for the good of the town, have recently submitted a bid for Colchester to become one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites. They have been given the full support of Colchester Borough Council, on the proviso that the council will not be asked to contribute any money towards this. In fact, the bid was completed and sent, with no costs whatsoever. Why is that? Could it be to do with the fact that it was done by volunteers; people who do this sort of thing for the love of their town; to try and make a difference where officialdom would rather do nothing in that direction? No 'consultants' were used. No fees were incurred. No parasites on the public purse. Whatever the reasons, the bid was submitted and now a waiting process has begun. It may be that Colchester doesn't stand a hope in hell of joining such a prestigious list of World locations. But why not have a go anyway? The sadness is that, no sooner has the bid been sent, the backbiting begins to try to discredit the application. A Conservative politician, (presumably jealous of other's achievements) makes a wholly unsubstantiated claim in the local newspaper that it would cost Colchester Borough Council a sum of £400,000 to become a World Heritage Site. It beggars belief! Why don't these people get behind the bid and support their town?

Followers

I have just noticed that I have two followers. I thought that I was a lone voice in the ether of time; indulging my ego for the good of my soul. Now that I have company I will have to make more of an effort. Welcome, fellow travellers!

Gosbecks Archaeological Park

I see in the Gazette that the boys and girls at the Town Hall have trousered a gift made to the people of Colchester for the development of Gosbecks Archaeological Park. They are spending the money on mainteneance and appear to have got through £100,000 or so of the original £500,000 given in 1995. So, what has happened to the interest for a start? Who has taken this decision to misuse the money and why? Was it a Tory or a Liberal Democrat? Colchester has more of a story to tell than Stonehenge. Gosbecks may just apppear to some as a few lines on the ground, but that is what the council's view seems to be of the word 'development'. The original intention was a visitor's centre with all the prestige and activity that that would bring to Colchester. Colchester alone fulfils all of the requirements for the Roman part of the school curriculum. The potential for catering for this is immense and could so easily have been enabled at Gosbecks. It has huge potential as part of what could be. Sutton Hoo was just a mound of earth until some people with a vision made a lottery application. Now look at what they have. We should have had those millions. It is negative thinking like that of the council that holds us back. But then, that is probably exactly what some want for Colchester. It appears that our council have trousered a half milion pounds of our money plus 15 years worth of interest, to use for helping itself out over maintenance costs, contrary to what it was given for. That, to me, suggests a dishonest act and one that should be challenged. Who accepted this money on our behalf all those years ago and how do they view what has been done in their name since then?