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Thursday, 21 May 2015

Far From The Madding Crowd

It's a busy month is May. Self inflicted, I'm afraid.

In order of frightfulness  the least scary is the E17 Art Trail. This year our theme is Storytelling and Poet's Corner has adopted the Max Bygraves catch phrase " I wanna tell you a story". This year seven roads are involved and  42 residents in those streets have written 10 line stories about Walthamstow. These will be printed on estate agent's "For Sale" signs as part of the Art Trail. Each road has a theme and each family in the road tells a story based on that theme. Getting it organised and delivered by 30th May is scary. A local estate agent is sponsoring this.

Next in the frightening factor is our annual street party. I, and a  few residents, have organised these since 2012. They're linked to the "Big Lunch" event, sponsored by the Eden Project, although we do our own thing. This year we've the Beach Bikini Band " headlining" our event and this has suggested the theme of our Party - retro- '60's surfin' USA. Neighbours will be invited to bring "surf and turf" dishes and dress appropriately with a paddling pool and sand pit evoking those "good ol' boys" and Surf City.

It takes some organising and I'm busily involved.

The scariest of the scariest is the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of our local allotment association. As Secretary I am required to do loads of admin. Ensuring the insurance is renewed each year, along with the membership of the various bodies to which we're affiliated. Then there's booking the venue for our meetings, paying the rent to the Council for our allotments.....and negotiating our new lease with the Council. This has been on going for 3 years and is still to be finalised. And next week I have to explain to the AGM why we're still in negotiations.

Oh, there's also the quarterly meeting of the Personnel Committee of our local Citizens Advice Bureau of which I'm the Chair and the meeting with the Union side, which tends to be rather fraught.

All this I've brought upon myself. A few years after I'd retired I decided I needed to do something so as not to vegetate. The result has been my hyper activity community wise. After a time it gets tiring. You begin by wanting to help your community: you end up resenting it. Or at least I do.

This year I've decided to do things I want to do. So I've started acting classes, going more and more to the theatre and picking up on the subjects I studied at university nearly 50 years ago. That means I need to ditch some, if not all of my community works. But I haven't the guts. I'd let people down, I need to complete the lease negotiations, the street party wouldn't happen etc, etc if I don't do it.

Actually, the world won't end if I give it all up. In fact things might move along even better if I stop being involved. But it's scary stopping even if it means less heart ache, less angst.

Today I went to the allotment, not to do anything; just to see how things were going on. It was great. The world manages quite well without me being there to help it. Everything moves forward as it is meant to: the fruit is setting, the beans are thrusting skyward, the greens are greening up and this year for the first time I will have a proper crop of almonds and a few walnuts.

So fuck structures and organisations: collectives and cooperatives, clubs and community action groups. Just let the grass, and everything else, grow around your feet.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Old Mother Riley MP

An after the Election Hangover? 

Well that wasn’t too painful was it? One party decapitated, another humiliated and the Bullingdon Club alumni entrenched in Downing Street.

It wasn’t meant to be like that was it? I mean Labour may have lost Scotland, but they and the SNP would keep the filthy rich party out of power, wouldn’t they?

But hey ho life continues in Walthamstow. Our MP Stella Creasy kept the social democracy flag flying and London bucked the trend to veer sharply to the right.  House prices are moving up again after the Mansion Tax menace vanished in the ballot box. And now we can all get back to making loadsa money as E17 continues to be the must go to destination.

Poet’s Corner, a discreet enclave off Hoe Street, has always been at the cutting edge of what is now and happening in Walthamstow. We are seen as the go-getters, the where to be seen destination in E17. So it’s no surprise that land prices have rocketed in this blessed patch of North East London.

A neighbour of ours sold the kerbside outside his house for £zillions. The new uber one bed flats are on sale for £1 million: and no parking but a community bike rack –so cool and Mini - Holland. They’ll be snapped up.

Leytonstone and Chingford can only look on open mouthed as white Mercs with personalized plates disgorge super fit dames and hip guys into the classy eateries that have opened on the High Street. But no wine bars as yet. Too, too Eighties maybe?

It’s all too much for one long time resident. They’re moving to Bude. Yeah, I too had to Google that. Apparently Ocado don’t deliver there!

Monday, 4 May 2015


"In the kingdom of the blind, the one eyed man is king." I fully endorse old Erasmus there. It's blindly obvious....Except.

When it comes to new technology, I like to think I'm up there with the best. I know millions of people who have not the foggiest idea what's going on when they turn on their tablet, switch on their PC or swipe their smart phone. They are blind to the technology that makes their lives so much better (sic). Not me, I'm super connected.

However, as far as digital TV we have been a bit behind the curve. We went digital in around 2000 and as a result are stuck there. Virgin Media  provide our limited choice of TV channels through a set top box(STB)  that is, I swear, contemporaneous with my first Amstrad PC. Our TV, quite the rage when we bought it in 2007, got on well with our STB but had some difficulty engaging with the then state of the art DVD player. However, we co-habited with this mash up of technologies...until we visited some friends.

Their house is a temple to technology with a flat screen super definition, smart TV dripping from every wall in the house. Entering their living room was confusing since the lack of an usher and ice-cream girl initially threw one. One wall was dedicated to viewing with an enormous TV hanging there challenging you to zap it with the handset. Well three actually. One to turn on the telly, one to operate the "sound bar" whatever that is, and a third to call out ADT in case of an emergency.

The thing was it was all there on that one wall. TV, films, internet, You Tube, the local Indian take away: at a click. I can tell you we were impressed...although the electric blinds in the bedroom were really something; but that's for another day.

So, after much cogitation we decided that we needed to upgrade our TV. Going on line at John Lewis we were immediately threatened by a 60 inch curved, 3D monster that would have devoured our front room. Even the 36 inchers looked over powering so we settled for a 22" Smart TV from Samsung. Well we'd bought our tumble dryer from them and it worked well so....why not a TV.

I had a vague idea what a Smart TV was: bit like my smart phone but with a bigger screen. Being John Lewis I could Click and Collect at our nearest Waitrose. A brilliantly convenient way for me to shop at Waitrose when otherwise I'd have gone to Lidl and saved half a month's pension.

I bought the said TV home. I have to own up to a mild sense of disappointment. It was slightly longer and less tall than the model it was replacing, but in area it was about the same. In fact its foot fall was much less than its predecessor's. I read the handbook, I read the on line manual. I Googled. I set about connecting our new Smart TV to the STB and the DVD player.

After much experimenting I was able to get the new hand set to switch the channels on the STB: except no matter what plug I plugged into what socket - there was no picture. After a few hours I managed to get the TV and the internet talking to each other and the TV worked if I used the old handset to change channels on the STB. I could not contact the DVD player.

All the guidance, all the handbooks do not help it appears when your STB is ancient. There was nothing anywhere which helped  me get our new Smart TV to work as it should. I don't know how many times the bloody thing scanned channels to store - with a zero success rate. I tried all the combination of cables, plugs and sockets - nothing.

About 8 years ago we installed a digital TV aerial, but hadn't used it.There it was hanging limp and unused. When we'd connected the TV upstairs to the aerial we'd needed a separate STB to decode the signals, but I thought that our new Smart TV would be able to unscramble the signals without any additional technology.

It was a thrilling experience once again pushing an aerial plug into an aerial socket. I fired up the TV. From the menu I chose "Aerial" and "digital"and there it was: a picture. I went to "Setup" and clicked "Auto tune". Like magic, the little TV gobbled up all the free to air channels and stored them. I linked up the DVD and sure enough from the on screen menu I was able to start "Interstellar". All the other functions worked perfectly. We had our Smart TV working! And the picture is stunning.

And I discovered we had far more channels "Free to Air" than Virgin Media provided and the menu function is much more comprehensive. Part of that is due to the processing power of  the TV, but also because of the antediluvian nature of our cable STB.

Virgin Media will be hearing from me.