Out and about, Uncategorized

Zen and the art of mower maintenance

I have a good relationship with my lawnmower repair man. I have never met him and  he has never once asked me to bring the mower to him or come out to repair it.

What he does is give me free moral support for my own efforts. He saves his time and I save my money.

To be frank I am not very good with combustion engines. Just as some people go to pieces at the mention of maths, I tend to lose the will to live when the mower packs up.

It is not a logical response. It is an emotional one. There is an overwhelming feeling of entering a strange land where parts covered in grease and compacted dried grass do unknowable things in complicated ways and have impenetrable names.

And then you look at the manual (only available online) and all it tells you is not to ride it on a slope.  In manual world, people’s mowers don’t pack up. Or if they do, they telephone the manufacturer who instantly whizzes out the right part – complete with a team of mechanics in spotless uniformed overalls – labelled “Mountfield” to install it. Or they give you a complete new mower.

In the real world, the mower is an expensive bit of kit, badly designed and assembled, that will pack up for a host of generally fairly simple reasons – but there is no one in the shop where you bought it, or at the manufacturer, to tell you how to fix it.

Also things happen to the mower that seem designed to sap your mental energy. For example – the latest mower fault was a broken belt. Now, warning, here comes the mechanical part – ride-on mowers have two belts – one that drives the wheels and the other that drives the blades. The one that broke for me was the blade belt.

I got on the phone to Simon, my official mower repair man, to ask his answer machine how easy is it to replace the blade belt. “Pretty easy,” was his voicemail reply. “If you look underneath you should be able to see how it fits on.”

Well, eventually, I did. With the help of my father – moral support again – and a great deal of logical thinking, we got the new belt on correctly. It did need more advice from Simon and the loosening of one pulley – but we did it.

Back to mowing the lawn – neglected now for so long that dandelion flowers had turned to dandelion clocks and the buttercups were growing into shrubs.  A couple of hours mowing and the ride-on suddenly refused to ride. The engine was going but the mower was not moving.  Heart in mouth I clambered off to lie flat on the grass and inspect the dark mass of pulleys and cogs underneath. Sure enough, the drive belt had now broken.

It is genuinely hard to believe that the mower isn’t doing this deliberately as some kind of emotional wind-up.

So what to do? Reader, I slept on it.

Long ago I read a book called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Much of it was guff, but one bit really stuck in my mind. That was the bit that said that if you are trying to repair something mechanical and it is getting you down then stop. Take a break, think about something else, have a cup of tea. Once the anger and frustration are no longer there, your mind is left free to actually think of a solution. But also to build up the moral courage to tackle the job.

So I left it a couple of days. I got onto Youtube, where generally there is an American farmer drawling into a smartphone held by his wife/daughter while he shows you how to replace a belt on his ride-on mower.  The mower restarts and they wife “yeehaars!” him as he drives off into the dust. But there wasn’t. No one on the internet it seems knows has to repair a Mountfield 1430 ride on.

And then I phoned the voicemail of Simon my repair man.  “Is this as easy to do as the blade belt?” I asked. Ominously my answer machine received no reply for a day. I slept on it again. And during the sleepless hours in early morning, my brain somehow resolved that I was being silly. That it would be relatively easy to do. They MUST have made the mower so that the drive belt can be replaced. It would just be a case of unscrewing what needed to be unscrewed to get at the pulleys around which the belt travelled and then loosening whatever pulley needed loosening to get the belt on.  And then putting it all back together again.

That’s what my early morning brain told me. And it was right. I stuck to it all of the next day. Unscrewing bits of metal and plastic in inaccessible places, all with different size bolts, all needing different spanners. Until I reached the nirvana of the six pulleys that held the drive belt.

I put the new belt back on. Screwed all the little gizmos back in to their places. Reconnected the battery….Except I couldn’t reconnect the battery because I had lost the tiny nut that holds the wire onto the negative pole. Next day a trip to the hardware store, back again, insert the nut, turn the ignition. Bingo! The engine started. Into gear, kazam! The mower moved forward. Connect the blades – Whump! The blades turned around.

I have fixed the mower. I reported back to Simon the repair man. “Well done,” he said. “You’ll have to come and help me with some jobs.” Now that’s an accolade.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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National Politics, Politics, Uncategorized

Let’s have two leaders

(and no more than one from London)

So who will be the leader of the Green Party now Natalie is going?

The question ought to be: “Who will be the leaders?”

There are 11 Green Parties in western Europe and many more around the rest of the world that regularly elect two leaders – a man and a woman.  They have made it part of their constitution. And it works.

The New Zealand Green Party, for example, the world’s oldest, and currently the third largest political party in that country, elects a female and male leader. They are James Shaw

and New Zealand green leadersMetiria Turei  (pictured above).  As you can see, Metiria is Maori, James is white.

The Swedish Party has always elected male and female co-presidents.  The picture below shows current leaders Asa Romson and Gustav Fridolin. In Sweden, when Greens  first began winning seats and coming into the national media eye, the TV outlets did not know who to invite on to their shows. The Greens insisted on having both. Eventually other parties, annoyed at the extra publicity  the Greens seemed to receive from this, Swedens Green co-leaders

began looking at copying the model, according to Per Gahrton, former Swedish Green MP.

The Green Party of England and Wales used to have two co-speakers. It did not work very well because the mistake we made was to constantly tell the media and the public that they were NOT leaders. This pronouncement, in a highly centralised state like Britain, made it sound as though we had no serious desire to govern or take public office.  So I was one of the majority of members who voted in favour of a move to “leaders” not a co-speaker.  But the ability to have two co-leaders, a male and female, was rightly retained in the constitution. Having two co-leaders is very different from having two speakers who are expressly not leaders.

Having two leaders addresses one of the long-standing problems many Green Party members have with the traditional party leader model.  How can a political party proclaiming decentralisation, decisions by consensus and by as local a level as possible, allow one person to reflect the values of their organisation across the  whole country? The centralised media in the UK obsesses with the personal quirks of the party leaders, for example Natalie’s dress sense, her clipped Australian tones, and so on. Any slip by a single leader can be represented by the establishment as “typical of the bumbling amateur Green Party”. Yet these have nothing to do with the policies or goals of a decentralised party like the Greens. Having two leaders, a man and a woman, reminds people that no one person is an embodiment of this political movement.

Also having two leaders allows them to share the burden of leadership: the constant 24-hour demand for your presence, the inevitable criticism of every slip and the pressures of public performing.  Two people can share their time, giving them crucial space for a “normal” private life.

Perhaps most importantly having two co-leaders not only allows the genders to be mixed: it allows the ethnicity, the social background, the  leadership style, the geographical imperatives of each to be mixed, ensuring better representation of the members and the country’s problems as a whole

Why not have a co-leader from London and one from the  sticks? One from a city and one from the country?  One from a Labour area, one from a Conservative. One black, one white. One with a business background, one from the public sector. And so on.

I welcome this. I see there is talk of Jonathan Bartley  and Jennifer Nadel jointly standing. Both are good media performers and both would be an asset.  But both are London based, just as Natalie, the two deputies and much of the Green Party staff and Executive are. This has been one of the problems that the party has suffered under for the past few years: a constant London-centric messaging based around a “housing crisis” and a refrain about having no limits to immigration, when one of the core values of the Green Party is that, unlike all other traditional political parties, it recognises that there are limits to growth.  This is coupled with an absence of discussion or mention of the issues facing people in the countryside, even though many  Green Party policies tackle them head on. These include such things as green field housing development for profit not people’s need,  bulldozing of habitat for new roads, the collapse of the economies of small towns, the collapse of rural public transport, the effective subsidy of intensive, pesticide ridden farming, and the undermining of local democracy and communities.

So I would like to see each sophisticated metropolitan candidate seek to pair up with a regional/country cousin to give both constituencies a voice.

And, London hopefuls, if you want some out of town names to bandy with, how about, off the top of my head and with no idea whether these people are seeking office:  Andrew Cooper, Jillian Creasy, Theo Simon, Vix Lowthian?    Let the mixing and matching begin!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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World politics

Jimmy Carter’s still going strong

"Countdown To Zero: Defeating Disease" Preview - Press Conference

Jimmy Carter on January 12, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Toth/Getty Images)

Refreshing to hear 91-year-old ex-President Jimmy Carter on R4 today. John Humphries asked whether Americans were rebelling against conventional politicians. Answer: “They’ve been cheated by the politicians who are funded by the rich and when they get elected do what the rich tell them to.” As an ex-president Carter’s campaign in the third world has nearly eliminated the parasite guinea worm. When he was president he was the only US president to refuse funding for the Guatemalan military during its oppression of the Maya people.

President Carter was diagnosed with cancer last summer and he has expressed the wish that he would outlive the world’s last guinea worm. He looks on track for that.

This January, 14 Guatemalan generals were arrested, charged with complicity in genocide. With a bit more luck Carter may just be alive to see the first Guatemalan generals convicted.

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National Politics, Politics

Britain Bombing Syria is not a solution

syrian bombingI am averse to knee-jerk pacifism as much as I dislike knee-jerk war-mongering. This is perhaps a bold admission for a Green Party member, but I supported the invasion of Iraq back when Tony Blair was primeminister, because I agreed that Saddam Hussein was worth getting rid of and thought that it could be done reasonably effectively, with a combination of ground troops supported by aircraft.

That part of it turned out to be more or less right. But I made the foolish mistake of assuming that the world’s western powers – which in effect meant the US – would have a coherent plan to create a democratic state once Saddam was driven from power. It turned out they didn’t. Like Captain Kirk blasting the baddies on a foreign planet, they thought they could install their own puppets and then walk away. They (we) ended up creating chaos, an incompetent, undemocratic Shia controlled government and massive disaffection amongst the Sunni minority. That disaffection is now stoking the growth of Isis.

So if there was a credible plan – using both diplomacy, sanctions, trade blockades, pressure on Turkey, carrots and sticks – to create a reasonably democratic state or states out of the mess that is Syria, and properly conceived military action was part of that plan, then I might just back it.

But there patently isn’t. This bombing is not part of a long-term strategic plan, it is apparently a political “message” to the US and France that Britain will back their “war on terror”. Yet there is no evidence that the Paris terrorist attacks were funded or organised by Isis, rather than individual disaffected Belgians and French who have been inspired by the idea of Jihad. And even if it turns out they were, the way to tackle terrorism is to address the underlying discontent among the populations of Syria, Iraq and Turkey that allows terrorists to thrive.

The evidence we do have points towards the futility of bombing Syria. America and France have been bombing the country for some time. All it has done is increase support for Isis by constantly killing civilians.  Would sending in ground troops – which may well be Obama and Cameron’s next step – be more effective? Not if we don’t have a plan to support the diverse citizens of the land currently known as Syria once Assad is removed. It would simply stoke anti-western feeling even further.

I have been reading all I can about this over the last few days because up until recently I was undecided. What finally swayed me against bombing were not the routine peacenik noises of Jeremy Corbyn, which are entirely to be expected. It was the opinions of people from the other end of the left-right spectrum, who do not have an ideological aversion to any foreign military intervention.

People like David Davis, Conservative MP, who believes that bombing will be ineffective.   Or Maj-Gen Patrick Cordingley, involved in the first Iraq invasion, who, writing in The Times, said that bombing, by killing large numbers of people, would simply fuel further problems with terror groups down the road.  Or Peter Hitchens, writing in the Daily Mail, who said “We are rushing towards yet another swamp, from which we will struggle to extract ourselves and where we can do no conceivable good.”

Green MP Caroline Lucas gave perhaps the most reasoned, least emotional, arguments, pointing out that the Foreign Affairs Committee had said that because Britain has so far avoided joining the bombing, unlike the US, Russia and France, we have a credibility in the eyes of Muslim, Middle Eastern nations which would allow us to take a leading role in diplomatic negotiations.

By the way, what a farce our newspapers and broadcast  journalists have made of reporting and analysing this important question. If you want to try to tease out the truth about whether we should join the bombing, you have to fight your way through a raft of lurid headlines about “Labour’s war on Syria” and commentary and overly-hostile questions about Corbyn’s “lack of leadership”. As if the main opposition political party having a heated debate on the question was somehow more surprising or interesting or important than the decision as to whether we should send our people into a battle zone in a foreign land.

For what it is worth, I’m glad that Jeremy Corbyn has allowed his MPs a free vote on the matter. If MPs are unable to exercise their consciences and intellects on this, they shouldn’t be MPs. Unlike all the other parties, the Green Party does not believe in “whipping” its elected representatives as if they are so much voting fodder. Every vote should be down to the conscience of the individual elected representative, not set by a party leader who has some tactical political reason, usually based around pleasing powerful backers, for fixing the vote.  People want their representatives to make decisions for them based on their individual conscience, not on their instructions from a party leader.

Ah yes, people will say, but you’ve only got one MP so it’s not yet an issue for you. Well all over the country we have Green groups of councillors none of whom use the “whip” to instruct their colleagues how to vote. All of them try to build consensus amonst their ranks by persuasion and debate. Greens ran Brighton and Hove council as a minority administration for four years, without using a whip. Yes that led to headlines about internal ructions and “splits”. But Greens were prepared to put up with that for the sake of treating their  elected representatives – and their constituents who expect them to make decisions for themselves – as adults.  A true leader leads by persuasion and example, not by the bullying and bribing that constitutes the whip system.

 

 

 

 

 

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Local History, Out and about

Scaling Suffolk’s highest peak, by bike

There aren’t many people who know where Suffolk’s highest hill is. And I’m not surprised. I looked it up the other day on Wikipedia. It’s a spot in a middle of a wood on the Newmarket Ridge. The Newmarket Ridge?  That  is a line of chalk that runs from the Chilterns in Hertfordshire all the way to the edge of Sudbury. It’s 136 metres high, which is about the  height of a 40-storey tower block.  The sort of tower that in the City of London would barely raise a planning officer’s eyebrows.

I hatched a plan to cycle there and back. Google maps said it would take about 1hour 44 minutes.

Perfect day for it, or so I thought, with a sparkling blue sky, and a few puffy clouds. However, a short way into the ride I realised that I was heading northwest, which was exactly the direction the bitter wind was coming from. So I was scaling Suffolk highest mountain against a headwind.

Still most of the way there went swimmingly. I even found time to stop between Lavenham and Bridge Street to take some pictures of the pair of pill boxes still standing sentinel in a field, in case any stray Germans still thought the war was on.

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You can just see the other one in the distance. Why two so close together? I don’t know.  I hope no one cracks the mystery surrounding these concrete lumps in the fields. The internet if full of pillbox enthusiasts trying to explain their siting and use, but it was all done in quite a hurry and was jolly hush hush. So no proper records remain  of the thinking of the harried officers, who spent sleepless nights trying to predict how Hitler would try to conquer England.

These ones are part of the “Eastern Command Line” or “Stop Line” which acted as an inland tank barrier, so that if the Germans took the coast in the East – between Lowestoft and Aldeburgh was the thinking – they would not be able to progress westwards. It ran from Wivenhoe in Essex, to Colchester then via Sudbury and Bury St Edmunds up to Mildenhall and then on to the Wash. The Home Guard were were supposed to huddle into the pillboxes in order to defend the tank barriers. These pillboxes are just north of a disused railway line that ran between Lavenham airfield – a US bombing base in the war – and Sudbury so perhaps this part of the line was also trying to defend the rail track.

On to Bridge Street, a cluster of houses around the confluence of the endlessly droning A134 and the River Chad. There was something ancient about it. It would perhaps have been a major coaching stop on the way to Bury St Edmunds.  But obviously no longer. However, Terry and Lynette, I gather, do welcome you to their historic pet-friendly guest house. I fancied a quick stop here but the Rose and Crown looked firmly shut.  So I pressed on up the road to Shimpling which meanders in apparently random series of different directions up the hill.

Another stop in the sun half way up to take a picture of this bizarre newly built house, which seemed to have been designed to look like a chapel conversion. A flat roof had been provided, I noticed, to make it more difficult to protect from damp.

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From Shimpling the way took me to Hartest, which meant freewheeling down a steep ravine – quite an unusual experience in Suffolk – to the open triangular village green, surrounded by medieval houses.

There is something frustrating about Hartest. There was a deathly quiet in the air. Yet the village with its green surrounded by medieval shops tucked into a secret valley, ought to be bustling with activity and independent shops. But there is not even a village shop, to buy the essentials – scratch cards and fags.

There was a butchers, BS Clarke. I cycled past Mr Clarke’s shopfront on the way back and he was inside with what looked like huge cattle legs, chopping them up with a cleaver.

The Crown appeared to be open, but I didn’t fancy it. I still haven’t forgiven the place for giving us the cold shoulder when we turned up at 2pm with the family looking for lunch. “No we’ve finished serving,” they said.

Hartest, like so many other Suffolk villages, has been hollowed out by axing of buses and the rise of the motorised commuter.

On the way out, on the road that was beginning the ascent to Brockley, I took a snap of the only other apparent business still going.  This historic corrugated iron garage on the way out of the village. The owner came out and we had a chat about his pumps.

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“Everyone wants to buy them,” he said. “I had someone offer me £1000 for them.” They date, he reckons from the sixties because they were still in use in the 70s when he bought the garage. But there were different pumps in wartime photographs he’d seen of the place.

I suggested the popularity of the TV series Salvage Hunters was making such items desirable . “Drew Pritchard was at my daughter’s school this week!” he said. “Really, what was he doing there?” I asked.

“No idea.”

A steady climb to Brockley Green. By now I was starting to look for excuses to stop and rest. Brockley failed to offer any. You have to turn left once in the village alongside a quite pleasant green with an uncompromisingly ugly 1970s village hall on it and a carpark. There were seats here, but they had all been placed on the car park, not close to the road. I started to get annoyed by the lack of roadside seats. If you don’t provide anywhere to sit in a village, you don’t provide anywhere for people to talk to each other. I presume seats would get in the way of people wanting to park their cars, which would never do. Retired people are forced to the seclusion of their conservatories. There to read the Telegraph and learn to hate the modern world.

So swiftly through Brockley pausing only to observe a bare-leaved apple tree in someone’s garden that glittered with shiny red apples, exactly like Christmas tree baubles.

One last push, up to the village of Rede which is at the heady heights of 110m. It appears abruptly at the end of a long road as a cluster of dormer-inserted bungalows.

Checking the map, I noticed an old man staring at me from out of his conservatoried retirement.

Then on up the road – only 26m to climb – and eventually onto the extremely isolated concrete farm track that took me all the way to Suffolk’s highest point, marked with a radio communications tower.

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And here it is, Suffolk’s most boring place. The word “ridge” is a misnomer, this was  a plateau, and a pretty featureless one at that. Rusting old farm machinery  lay mouldering around the cracked up concrete. There was a barbed wire fence, giving away the presence of a reservoir owned by Anglia Water. And that was about it. Continue reading

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Local politics, National Politics

Green Euro vote 2014 by police commissioner area

Green Euro vote by police commissioner area

Police area % Green vote Euro Green police commissioner vote % Region
Avon and Somerset 12.8 South West
Sussex 11.9 South East
Devon and Cornwall 11.5 South West
Gloucestershire 10.8 South West
Cambridgeshire 10.6 Eastern
Norfolk 10.4 Eastern
North Yorks 10 Yorks and Humber
Suffolk 9.7 Eastern
Thames Valley 9.3 South East
Dorset 9.2 South West
Wiltshire 9 South West
Hampshire 8.8 South East
Surrey 8.7 South East
Merseyside 7.9 North West
West Yorks 7.9 Yorks and Humber
Hertfordshire 7.9 Eastern
South Yorks 7.7 Yorks and Humber
Kent 7.3 South East
Cheshire 7.1 North West
Greater Manchester 7 North West
Cumbria 6.9 North West
Essex 6.8 Eastern
Bedfordshire 6.7 Eastern
Nottinghamshire 6.7 East Midlands
West Mercia 6.5 West Midlands
Lancashire 6.2 North West
Warwickshire 6.2 West Midlands
Humberside 6.1 Yorks and Humber
Leicestershire 6.1 East Midlands
Derbyshire 6 East Midlands
Northants 5.8 East Midlands
Durham 5.5 North East
Northumbria 5.5 North East
Dyfed-Pows 5.2 Wales
Lincolnshire 5 East Midlands
South Wales 4.9 Wales
West Midlands 4.8 West Midlands
Staffordshire 4.2 West Midlands
Cleveland 4.1 13 North East
Gwent 3.9 Wales
North Wales 3.7 Wales
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