richard pierce

richard pierce

11 December 2015

Tetraptych - December 2015

In memory of LH

I.

My mind is full, but
My mouth is empty.
I scribble the mind onto another page
Without speaking.
I have grief on my mind,
Of an unknown kind.


II.

The taste on my tongue
Is wasted, because you're not here.
I have a memory of unread words,
You telling me they're right,
Not wrong.


III.

Behind me, there's music,
Because I can't deal with talk.
The beat is a novel, a poem.
The beat is life,
But not this one.
Look, over there.


IV.

There is a tune I won't forget,
Just a simple melody on a piano,
A plain song you didn't write,
But I hear you singing
And smiling it.

5 December 2015

Decisions, decisions - integrity

As you may imagine, having been traditionally published and then dropped by your publisher because you're not "commercially viable" can be a bitter pill to swallow. However, there are some bonuses to this. And by that I don't just mean the Schadenfreude at discovering that your ex-publisher turned down The One-Hundred-year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared. It's to discover that you're confident enough not to be guided by sales or by the volume of response to a book, confident enough to say I am a hybrid author, and I'll publish my own words and see if they evoke any reaction at all.

In the beginning, though, I thought it was important to offer readers an incentive, felt like it was my duty to offer my books to my readers for free, despite all the hours I have spent writing them, living them, thinking them, to offer them for free just for those few seconds of perceived exhilaration when they're near the top of the charts with nothing much more done than make them free.

But that phase is over now. I am a writer, serious about my craft, serious about the craft others exercise and get even less recognition for than I do. There will be no freebies, no promotions that give my words away for less than what they have cost me, not just financially, but physically and mentally, too. There is too much dross that's accumulated in that free book category, there's too much of a price to pay, and no writer should have to give away his words and his life for free (and I include authors of all genders in those male pronouns because giving alternatives makes the prose even more difficult to read, and stretches the flow of words into a stutter rather than a melody).

And that's why I won't put my newest book, Tettig's Jewels, up for free. That's why I won't put its paperback version up for the same price as previous, shorter books. I can't afford to. Because, at the end of the day, writers are striving to make a living. We can't afford to make a loss. We can't assume that our day jobs will last forever. We can't even assume that our writing days will last until we drop down dead, although the thoughts in our heads that spout all these words probably will. And we'll make a pittance out of what we've written, even if we charge more than mass trade paperbacks, and we'll not earn a living purely on the words that come out of our mouths and minds and drip onto the paper that was empty before we caught it.

Most of us hybrid authors are not those minority of authors who throw words onto a page and reckon they're good enough to be read without being edited, without even a glimpse of a second read-through. Most of us put entirely unrecognised and unappreciated efforts into what we write, because we know we owe our readers perfection, because we don't want to put our readers through one typo after the other, because we don't want our pages to look scruffy and, basically, unreadable. We are professionals. Writing is not a hobby; it's a job. Fine, it's mostly guided by inspiration than the whip of a regular monthly salary, but it's a job, nevertheless, even if it only makes us a couple of quid a month.

Be kind to us, and with that I don't mean leave a good review even if you hated the book you just read. Be kind to us, and give us any kind of reaction. Be kind to us and don't rip off our books, don't copy them and put them up on dodgy web sites for free. Be kind to us by being honest. We're sitting round the virtual camp fire and holding our hands out for the food that will keep us alive and let us make up new stories for you to listen to and read, for you to escape from whatever the world is doing to you. Because we're writers, and that's what we do, and we want to stay alive.

24 November 2015

Tettig's Jewels - my new old novel

Sometime in 1989, I was sitting at my desk at work, exhausted after yet another day of internecine warfare instigated mainly by the management consultants I was working with at the time, and started doodling onto a pad of yellow post-it notes (other sticky papers are available), and, for some odd reason, scribbled two words onto the paper - Tettig's Jewels. I still have no idea where that came from, and I unfortunately no longer have the yellow bit of paper. I do know, though, that those two words grew, not just into a person I have carried around with me in my head every second of every hour of every day since then, but into the novel I most of all wanted to have published. And now that I am what they call a hybrid author (traditionally published and indie-publishing of my own accord), the time has come, after rewrites into at least double figures, for the old man Tettig to see the light of day. In the UK, you can pre-order the Kindle edition here. In other territories, just search your Amazon for Tettig. And here's the book trailer.


And while you're watching that, and listening to the great Better Man track The Post Romantics have very kindly allowed me to use, here's a bit more about how that book has grown.

Originally, it started off as a little kind of comedy in the Douglas Adams vein, with talking furniture and other inanimate objects suddenly becoming animate (they're all gone now, by the way). And that's because, from nowhere (which seems to be where most of my ideas come from), evil and the need to combat it found its way into the frame, and I suddenly had a very beautiful but dead woman on my hands, a woman who wanted to be resurrected.

The idea had always been that the hero would be a middle-aged man, someone no-one would expect to be the hero of a novel, never mind a hero in real life. And that's because, I suppose, even at the age of 29 I felt middle-aged (I always say to people I was actually born an old man). And that's what Dick Tettig has always been; a shambolic, disorganised old man who's trying to make sense of life, who's just trying to keep things together until his life, too, is done. But then this task appears for him, to somehow save this dead woman from being dead, this dead women who turns out not only to be beautiful but also to be the love of this old man's life. But how should he save her? And why is he perpetually so disorganised, with a memory like a sieve?

The simple answer for some would have been to give up at this point. But Tettig didn't, and he never has. Because, like all the characters I've been blessed with, he has always written his own story. I am, as always, and like I will probably always be, just the mouthpiece of this ever-growing cast of people who somehow find their way to me. I'm just the bloke who writes the words down; they are the people who speak them, who do the things the words describe, and who have to fight their way through pain and death and disappointment. And Tettig's choice was to become someone who travels through time in a most unusual way.

So, anyway, at one point I found an agent for this work of art given to me by a cast of wondrous people who had chosen me to speak for them, an agent who said that the first line of the book was the best first line he'd ever read (and it's still the first line). Ah, but the obstacles that were to be placed in his way, and in the way of the assistants he handed me on to. 'We can't define a genre for the book,' they said. 'And?' I said. They said 'It makes it difficult for us to sell. Have you ever thought of ghost writing instead of being a novelist?' So our ways parted, and someone else had a look at the book and tried to make it more 'accessible.' Cue more rewrites and wailing and gnawing and gnashing of teeth, mainly by the characters who were complaining at being distorted. And so the novel was put to one side while, inside it, the battle between good and evil still raged, with every possible ending in sight.

The writing of other things (and the thinking about Tettig) never stopped, though, and in 2012, I was traditionally published with my Antarctic novel Dead Men, for which I am still eternally grateful to that tiny blonde tomboy of a woman called Birdie who appeared to me while I was out running, and to my employer for letting me go out to the Antarctic, and to my current agent, who, for the sake of completeness, I should point out doesn't like Tettig's Jewels at all. And after indie-publishing two other novels close to my heart, I decided this year, thanks to the never-wavering support of my family and the dear dear SJ who knows who she is, that Tettig would have his day after all. I spent six months bringing the book back into shape, making it more immediate by putting it into the present tense rather than the past, just to emphasise that whatever happens in the novel is happening to those characters now, this very minute, in the very blink of an eye that you're reading about them, that there are always battles between good and evil going on somewhere, everywhere.

What I have realised, too, 26 years after starting on this path with this book, and after long email conversations with a new very good friend, is that Tettig's Jewels is far more multilayered than the callow youth who started writing it thought all that time ago. And that's got to mean something.

A paperback edition of Tettig's Jewels will also shortly be available. I hope you enjoy it.


12 November 2015

Perspective

The sky looks further away through the camera,
And smaller,
Not endless like we expect it to be,
And the moon looks tiny.

The screen lies.

When you listened to my stories
You were a child, and
You believed them all
Until you fell asleep
In the worlds I made for you.

I have forgotten all those words,
But I can remember what they were about:
Dragons and kings and promises and hopes,
With the odd socialist goal thrown in
Before the light of day went out
Behind the already-drawn curtains.

Reality never seemed painful then.

The sky is glorious tonight,
And I wish we were walking towards it,
Hand in hand,
Alone in the wind
And the whispers of the clouds around us

Because I miss you.
 
 
 
For Oscar, 30/10/2015

9 November 2015

On reflection

When I was a 19-year-old punk with red and (some say) green hair, my dad once said to me ‘Son, the only way to change the system is from inside.’ At some point in my early life, though not exactly then, I think I started to agree with him, and grew up repeating the same to my children. They definitely didn’t agree, and are much the better for it. And their successes (and tribulations) have persuaded me that I’ve been wrong about this, especially in the last six months or so.

The expression ‘playing the system’ has mainly unpleasant connotations, akin actually to cheating, to the gamesmanship that makes a mockery of the spirit of regulations and the law in sport and life alike. To become part of the system is not to magically acquire the capability of changing things more effectively, nor does it ever result in the changes we actually need as a society. All it does is make you a first-hand witness to manipulation of the system by those who want to gain an advantage for themselves rather than for altruistic reasons. The fact that some politicians are vilified for being honest just reinforces that.

At the beginning of September, I went to Mid-Suffolk District Council’s planning committee meeting that, amongst other things, discussed the planning application for the Grove Farm development in Stradbroke (44 houses), as well as an application to site one static caravan and one touring caravan on a site in Baylham. In both instances, the presentations to elected members by non-elected officers were remarkably biased, and spun in such a way to achieve the outcomes which the officers partially preferred rather than being objective presentations which would allow the elected members to make up their own minds.

For example, photos were used for the Grove Farm application which showed deserted country roads totally bereft of traffic leading past the planned development site, while the photos used for the Baylham application were taken in such a way as to make two small caravans appear to interfere with the “natural beauty” beyond the site. Needless to say, the Grove Farm application was approved, despite the significant damage to the environment and heritage that will be caused (and the increased likelihood of someone being killed on a very busy road), while the Baylham application was turned down despite there realistically being no detrimental impact on Baylham’s environment or heritage (not influenced at all, of course, by the fact that the land-owning applicant is a traveller).

When I spoke against the Grove Park application, I was given three minutes to make my case. I made it in two minutes. When the elected members asked me questions, I began to answer. I was interrupted by an unelected officer shouting that my 3 minutes were up. It took MSDC’s solicitor to remind that officer that I was entitled to answer questions. Closed systems like this are open to abuse, of people choosing whether or not to abide by the rules, and when deciding not to abide with them making up reasons not to abide by the rules, or making up spurious rules on the spot to ensure that they have their way. A case of the tail wagging the dog? I couldn’t possibly comment.

All this, and more, has led to me, over the past few weeks, looking at my life and asking myself if being in the system has actually helped those around me the way I wanted it to. The answer is a resounding no. It has also made me evaluate how exactly the modest successes that I may or may not have had in my life have been achieved. Superficially, some might say it’s come about because I’m white and Cambridge-educated, and because I’ve been part of various systems as I’ve gone along.
 
But when I dig under the surface, I don’t think that’s the correct analysis. There has always been a touch of the slightly ridiculous and spontaneous in the things I do, including that, in my dotage, I still bleach my hair and am considering a sixth piercing. Many people compliment me on being a loose cannon, on my heartfelt engagement, from the outside, in the lives of people and organisations I care for.
 
In the last six months, though, I have achieved nothing, not for those I love nor those I care for, nor for the causes I support, hampered by rules which I, as an honest man, believe I should adhere to even when others do not, and tired of watching those rules being broken time and time again. But then I’ve never been particularly motivated by the idea of being powerful. And that’s not about to change.

Some might say that only the strong survive, but I believe that the meek shall inherit the earth.

19 October 2015

The Darkness

The darkness is our friend.
I said that when you were little.
I still say it.

On a different soil, then,
We chased a storm together,
And its thunder.
We reached it sooner than we thought,
And the clouds collapsed around us
Until we could no longer see.
We still found our way home.

The noise too loud to hear each other,
Too brutal for voices,
And the darkness upon us.
It was still our friend,
With its shattered light.

And now …

There are always chances,
In every room without a visible door,
To escape to the borderless fields,
Where we make our own choices,
Where we are free.

It’s not easy to understand,
In the open, without cover,
That there’s no single right answer,
But out here we are at liberty,
Not like those who accept the closed rooms,
Who believe there are no doors, ever.

The darkness is our friend.
Through it we can escape, unseen.


R, for Charlotte on her birthday, 19.10.2015

8 October 2015

She

The moon, steeped in old blood,
Sighs below the horizon, waiting,
Waiting for the sun,
Opposite axis,
Opposite pole,
Opposing light.

She moves, airless,
Anticipates,
A rock for a heart,
The warmth to melt it,
To feel again.

For one brief history,
She smiles brightness,
Then the yellow crescent falls.

Her blood seeps now, thick
From her cratered wounds,
And drips as dew onto the blue
Below.

R, 03/10/2015

28 September 2015

cosmos


end-of-summer webs woven
against the wall
and the cloud an ovary
across the moon
sways
the evening still
cool
breath standing
in the vacuum

life
as slow as life
and faster than light
the cosmos
we are

the cosmos we were
egg and seed
a creation miracle evolved
from the ovary cloud
the fractured moon
the spinning universe
and beyond

in the beginning

25 July 2015

Sandman

I am a man of sand.
All about me is constructed and mechanical
My automatic brain tells me
Until I wake and can’t move
For the tiredness in every cell
For the heaviness in this artificial flesh,
The shapelessness of shifting grains.

I am a man of sand and straw
And the wind blows me to
Wherever it is I don’t want to be.

2 July 2015

The Weakness

There was always
A weakness in the argument,
Time or religion or bed-time,
No agreement ever in any argument
Because nothing can be agreed
As long as the world turns
And writing deciphers riddles
And makes them.

I cannot cope
With my own echoes.
They are too loud
And obvious,
Easily-read runes of pain.

We had a wonderful time
At the edge of the sea,
Barely drowning
When we wanted to run,
When we had to escape
What we were afraid of.

And the shapes change
Because our hands change
And we alter not just ourselves.

R, 02/07/2015

29 June 2015

Grove Farm Affordable Housing? It's just an illusion.

Judging by a letter from John Pateman-Gee, Mid-Suffolk's Senior Planning Officer, published today on both Stradbroke's web sites, it appears that the Grove Farm Development proposal is being scaled down to 44 houses from 54 houses, with all the ten houses removed from the proposal being affordable housing.

This raises several points.

The first question I have is why the letter was apparently addressed to a single parish councillor, yet starts with "Dear Everyone." A supplementary question would be, that if I have the wrong end of the stick and the letter was addressed to the Parish Council, why it was not immediately shared with the entire Parish Council by email, and indeed why Mr Pateman-Gee did not email it to all councillors in the first place.

The second point I'd like to make is that the revised proposal actually merely revises the development back to the size of the original proposal, which in itself is too large a development, bearing in mind that there are at least another 12 houses already with planning permission in the village. Someone far more cynical than I might suggest that this has been the developer's strategy from the very beginning - to increase the proposed development to a size which would be certain to bring protests from a majority of villagers, and then to reduce it to the size which was intended all along to make it appear that the developer had actually listened to local protests. This is not an improvement on the 54-house proposal. It is still far larger than the 24-house development all those who oppose the current development plans say they could support.

The third point is this - when the 54-house proposal went to Parish Council, two of our youngest parish councillors very eloquently and movingly argued for the development on the grounds of the 50% affordable housing it promised to bring to the village. I wonder if those two councillors feel at all betrayed now. Even though affordable housing would still account for 38.6% of the development (17 houses), this move most certainly confirms the suspicions I and others voiced at the time of the parish council meeting which narrowly voted for the development, which were that the developer would gradually decrease the number of affordable houses in the development. Furthermore, it raises the question as to whether or not the developer actually plans to build any affordable housing at all as part of the development. It certainly does not inspire trust.

Add to this the fact that the current government's policy is to cut its funding for housing associations, forcing them to borrow funds for new housing against their current stock of housing (see my blog post of 14th April 2015), there's an even bigger possibility that the Grove Farm development will see no affordable housing built at all.

The revision to the proposal means that Stradbroke Parish Council will have to vote on this proposal once more, and that it will, once more, have to be listed on the Mid-Suffolk Planning Department's web site. We need to make sure that the voices of the villagers are again heard through the objection process, tiresome as this might be.

So, in summary, developer makes first over-sized proposal, withdraws it, makes even more over-sized proposal to ensure even greater protests, amends very over-sized proposal to make it appear as if it's listening, cuts affordable housing percentage, casts significant doubt on any affordable housing being built. It's all smoke and mirrors. Just an illusion.

9 June 2015

Due Process

You may (or you may not) have wondered why I haven't blogged since the General Election on 7th May. There are many reasons for this. Not only was I disappointed with the result of the election (which I believe was prejudiced by the media in general, and by the right-wing media in particular), I was also very disappointed by the result of the Parish Council elections in Stradbroke, which I believe were unduly influenced by candidates not observing the Representation of the People's Act. But I suppose that's water under the bridge, and an unimportant person like me should leave it be at that.

However ...

I have spent most of my adult life as a process manager, as a manager of arguable processes. That means I have had to look at how decisions are arrived at, at production processes (mainly for services rather than products), have had to ensure that decisions made have been backed up by a verifiable and acceptable means of making those decisions. That's why, at the last two Stradbroke Parish Council meetings, I have made points of order, halted the meetings because they have not observed Standing Orders (basically instructions on how meetings should proceed). In the first meeting I took part in (in May), a councillor suggested the council suspend Standing Orders when I made a point of order. Today, the Chairman of the council shouted at me for making a point of order, and suggested, in a particularly aggressive manner, that I was quoting from Standing Orders that were not issued by Stradbroke Parish Council. Thankfully, the Parish Clerk corrected him on that matter. If we were allowed to suspend Standing Orders, we might as well suspend the Code of Conduct.

I'm afraid there is an issue with local government which is not confined merely to Stradbroke Parish Council. Many councils appear to labour under the illusion that they are the final arbiters of what is right or wrong for the village they claim to represent. The fact of the matter is that actually parish councils have very limited executive powers, if any. Many councillors in parish councils across the country (and I am still including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - and Yorkshire - in my definition of this country) believe that sitting on the parish council gives them the right to lord it over those who live in their parishes. They are wrong. The populace hold the balance of power. The problem is that the populace (except for the minute fraction who have time to attend parish council meetings) can't see how much information their councils withhold from them. They believe the process to be transparent when it is not. They believe those who tell them that everything's fine, that their interests are being represented, that due process is being observed.

At this evening's meeting, it was claimed by the Chairman that Stradbroke Parish Council had managed itself very well by not observing procedures for the last two decades. Has it really? Is not the result of the non-observance of due process that we live in an increasingly fragmented and tribally motivated village? I despair of politicians who distort public opinion to fit in with their own aims. Furthermore, that comment suggests that any motions passed by the council over the last two decades has actually been passed illegally and would not stand up in a court of law.

One last comment - the public were this evening treated with disdain by the Chairman of Stradbroke Parish Council, which I believe to be a breach of the Seven Principles of Public Life. I find that appalling, sad, and reprehensible. It's one thing to claim to be representing the people of Stradbroke; it's another actually doing so.


6 May 2015

Campaign Trail - Days 22-25

Necessity and fairness dictate that this should be my last Campaign Trail post. Tomorrow is Election Day, and I'll be spending it making conference calls to various countries and working on uotting together a 150-page report for my trustees. But I WILL VOTE. Please make sure you do, too.

I'm not going to mix my local politics with my national politics. I believe parish council level politics should be unencumbered by party-political things, unless a candidate's party-political beliefs interfere with what a parish council should be doing, which is representing the village as a whole.

So, a quick summary of my last few days.

Sunday
I was meant to play cricket. It rained, so I didn't. I felt a certain amount of relief at not having to bat in four layers again, and at having a day to relax, but that turned into frustration, because I'm actually pretty bad at doing nothing.

Monday
Finished distributing leaflets, mainly in Battlesea Green. The leaflets were my own, and the leaflet of the Green candidate for the District Council election, James Hargrave, whom I strongly support. I was really happy to have the company of my eldest daughter, Charlotte, on this round of distribution. This election will be her first time of voting, and I hope she will be one of many 18-year-olds voting with their conscience.

I mowed the back lawn. Someone has to.

I mowed the front lawn. Someone has to.

Actually, having a front garden in the centre of the village is great. It has meant I don't have to go canvassing, because a huge amount of people walk by, stop and talk. It's like having an open MP's surgery. Except I'm not an MP. Anyway, many good conversations have been had over these past three and a bit weeks, in the fron garden, or on the pavement opposite.

The phone rang for the umpteenth time. It was yet another person from the village pledging their support. I am humbled and astounded by the volume of supportive phone calls I've had. This one was from an 80-year-old man who has lived in Stradbroke forever, and remembers a 100-year-old tortoise living in the garden of one of the houses on New Street. Amazing.

Tuesday
Bank holidays dislocate me, and I had a lot of work to catch up on. And I went fencing. And tiredness took me.

Wednesday
I thought today was Thursday, but I'm glad it's not, because I'd have forgotten to go to the polling station. It also gives me an extra day to get all my work done, and to look at how much I've spent during my campaign (on printer cartridges and paper, mainly).

Campaign highlights
The absolute highlight has been meeting so many lovely people whom I didn't know before. Amongst them are Andy from the Wirral; Sue (our lovely vicar who made me feel at home again when she called "God bless" after me as I was leaving her front door); the lady who told me she used to own the Skoda I now drive (she called him Alan; we call her Flic); the man who showed me round his land and his workshop and told me he hoped the parish council would stop being a "self-interested lot;" the couple sitting in the sun who asked to read my leaflet there and then (and it was obvious to me that they were so happy in each other's company). All those conversations and observations have had a huge impact on me, and made me determined, even if I don't get elected, to continue to put the interests of the whole village first.

Dead animals spotted while distributing leaflets: 2 birds and 1 mouse. Quite a small total, really.

And that's it. Just to reiterate my election call: Honesty. Integrity. Accountability.

Please vote for the following good people, too, who will do a fine job at representing the village:

Caroline Barnes, George Chaplin, Oliver Coles, Lynda Ellison-Rose, Brian Goffee, James Hargrave, Maureen John, Velda Lummis, and Ellie Wharton.

Thank you.

Promoted by Richard Pierce-Saunderson of Spring Cottage, Church Street, Stradbroke, Suffolk, IP21 5HT.

4 May 2015

Campaign Trail - Day 21

Saturday was more of a day away from the campaign trail than on it. I'd been asked a long time ago to do a set of poetry at the Turn The Page Artists' Book Fair, and spent a lot of last week thinking about which poems I would actually perform. I was sharing a stage with the very talented Two Coats Colder folk band, so I was even more nervous than normal. Footfall at 2014's fair was over 13,000 people over its two days, and first estimates are that this year's footfall was even larger. Every reason not to fall flat on my face.

In the end, it went really well, I'm glad to say. I made four new friends, listened to some great music, and contributed my 15 minutes to the 2pm performance with no greater problem than a very dry mouth, but had my bottled Stradbroke water to hand.


The theme of the set (music and poetry) was the sea, so I read a sequence of poems from a work in progress called the 366 which chronicles the existence of two beings in the forest near somewhere which could be anywhere on the east coast in Norfolk or Suffolk. I'll post all the poems I read on this blog at some point soon. I ended my first set with a poem I dedicated to all the women on the planet, prefaced with the hope that they will grab with both hands the equality they should have. I was really dead chuffed when that one had the whole of the Forum in Norwich applauding.

To my surprise, Two Coats Colder asked me to have a cup of tea with them, and then asked me (even more surprisingly) to stay on and contribute to the 4:30pm set they were due to perform. I was humbled and flattered, and obviously couldn't refuse. Good job I'd brought some more poems with me. And, because I was asked by so many people to do so, I finished with the same poem I'd finished the first set with:

Numbers

Often,
You make yourself old before you are,
Hiding behind the invisibility the world
Creates for all women of a certain age.

Time is nothing.
Time doesn’t move.
We move through static time.

You could wear now
The clothes you wore when we first met.
You could wear now
The smile you wore when we first met,
And I looked up from some book or another,
Full of useless scribbles,
And you looked back, because I was there.

What has passed has passed.
It is not what makes us. These numbers
Are artificial measures of a time
We don’t have.

You could wear nothing
And I would love every mark
Of the time you have passed through.
You could wear leopard skin legs
And I would worship you
The way I do now, in the cloak of the banal.
Nothing changes inside us,
And time is outside.

Stop counting.
I have. I never started.

The great thing about the fair is not only the amazing book art that is invariably present, but the fact that it seems to attract so very many zine producers, and most of them radically feminist. These are old-fashioned pamphleteers who put their thoughts (and those of their contributors) down on paper, who print and fold their zines by hand, for whom the digital manifestation of their thoughts and beliefs is a by-product, who believe that pieces of paper, passed on hand-to-hand, is still the best way of spreading their message, just like Tyndale's bible was. We forget, in our digital age, how much power paper still has, and, coming back to Stradbroke, not always power for the good (my election leaflet excepted, of course).
 
I hope to be able to do a gig with Two Coats Colder again in the near future, and I hope next year's Turn The Page fair is even more successful than this year's. To go to Norwich was to escape the insanity of the awful things that are happening behind the scenes her in Stradbroke as we strive to move towards a better future for the village, only to have some parish councillors, and those who would be the powers behind the throne, assuming they still hold the trump cards that will prevail. Well, they are mistaken. This is a free election, and the people of Stradbroke will, hopefully, vote in their droves, and vote for change.
 
Thanks to Marina Florance (left) and Jules (second from right, and whose surname I always, in a very non-politician way forget) for booking me, and for organising one of East Anglia's best events every year. And thanks to Two Coats Colder (the rest in the pic) for putting up with me.
 
 
Promoted by Richard Pierce-Saunderson of Spring Cottage, Church Street, Stradbroke, Suffolk, IP21 5HT.

3 May 2015

Campaign Trail - Days 18 to 20

Random recollections of what's been going on. If days could be extended to cover 36 hours it might be helpful.

Wednesday was fragmented. I had a lot of work to catch up on and then, mid-afternoon, I had a meeting with the ECB about Stradbroke Cricket Club's self-accreditation as a ClubMark club this year, a meeting which then extended into discussing club sports in Norfolk and Suffolk in general. It's a fact, unfortunately, that most sports clubs are losing players at both ends of the age spectrum, and that there are a variety of reasons for this, ranging all the way, in cricket's case, of there not being enough (any) coverage on terrestrial TV, through parents' and players' time constraints, all the way to how tight money is with everyone because of the unnecessary austerity imposed on the country by the Tory-led coalition, especially with salaries at the lower end of the scale still not rising enough to keep pace with even the low inflation of food and utility prices. By the way, on a general election issue, don't let the numbers being out out there by the current government fool you - the average wage, which is going up, includes the salaries of all those who earn millions of pounds every year, as well as those subsisting on below a living wage.

Thursday was interesting. I spent the morning with the auditors of the charity which employs me, finalising the narrative and financial content of our annual report. The financials were still £1 out on a rounding issue, which needs to be resolved before I can take the report to my trustees. One of the mandates the auditors have is to question someone like me about how our cashbook is maintained and how the organisation's strategy has been kept to, and what the organisation's strategy for the next 3-5 years is. I am always grateful to the auditors for keeping these meetings as brief as possible, with little or no time wasted on what people might regard as niceties. We're there to do a job, not to socialise.

After that meeting, I went to the headquarters of a national mental health charity, to discuss everything to do with its national information service, and to look in detail at the performance of its national helpline. Alarmingly, due to lack of funding, the charity only has the capacity to answer 50% of all the calls it receives. Even more alarmingly, although the NHS mental health provision has improved significantly over the last ten years, one of the colleagues I was meeting with pointed out that the provision is still "not fit for purpose." This is a sad fact, and one which must change. Mental health is a serious issue, depression a serious illness and NOT a state of mind.

I got back from London just in time to stuff my face with a couple of bits of pizza before heading off to the Annual Parish Meeting. I was really pleased that, before the meeting started, the Clerk to the Parish Council made the point that this was not a normal parish council meeting, and also pointed out that no comments, favourable or unfavourable, could be made about any people standing for election to the parish council, because the purdah period running up to an election was still in place.

A couple of things of interest from that meeting were a comment from the floor that the doctors' surgery was beginning to see patients in their thousands, not in their hundreds, and that the village's SpeedWatch volunteers were catching an average of 9 speeding vehicles on each outing they undertook. I think these points are illustrative of the need to grow the village organically rather than through an explosive over-development of the Grove Farm or any other sites.

For me, the most significant issue to come up at the meeting was the uncertainty about the provision of fibre broadband into the village. Unfortunately, and this is actually a problem with very many politicians, Guy McGregor, our county councillor, doesn't really understand the technology, so the numbers and forecasts he brought with him weren't really worth the paper they were scribbled on. As I've said before, universal access to really fast Internet communications is vital for the sustainability of this village.

Friday was spent working and leafleting, leafleting on behalf of myself and James Hargrave whom I am supporting in his campaign to become a district councillor for the Green Party. James and I split the leaflet distribution between us, with me covering the east side of the village, including the Hopkins development, Westhall, Grove End, and Laxfield Road. What hit me was something I should have realised before - that Stradbroke is in reality already a very big village, that it should be no surprise that the infrastructure is already creaking, and, most importantly of all, that the people living here are really friendly and inclusive and (inserts over-used word) nice. It took mae five hours to distribute all the leaflets I had, mainly because I spent lots of time talking with people, people who turned out to know of me already, who said they would vote for me. That's quite humbling.

One final word - draft excluders on letterboxes are a bane. I pity our poor posties who must get scars on their fingers every single day.

Promoted by Richard Pierce-Saunderson of Spring Cottage, Church Street, Stradbroke, Suffolk, IP21 5HT.

2 May 2015

Campaign Trail - Day 17

On Tuesday I spent most of the day in London, attending a mass assembly for children from North London schools to raise their awareness of whom they could seek help from and talk to if they were being mentally or physically abused. Quite an eye-opener again, in all honesty, and really of much more importance than a local election campaign.

The assembly was held at a football stadium, and, walking back to the Tube station after the assembly, through bustling streets, past terraced houses and past new flash offices where terraced houses had once been, I was taken back to my childhood when I lived in just such a street in Doncaster, albeit in a semi, just five minutes walk away from Doncaster Rovers' football ground (Belle Vue in those days). Back then, there was a sense of community, even in the northern urbanity of one of South Yorkshire's biggest towns. We played football in the street, left our doors unlocked, flocked to the park in the summer to play cricket against the West Indian lads who lived on the other side of the park. And when we went to football matches at Belle Vue we always turned up an hour early so we'd have time to chat with the mates we'd probably last seen at school the day before, or, as we got a little older, whom we'd not seen since the last home game because they were working now (while some of us were wasting our time with A levels or university).

This set me to asking myself about the sense of community in Stradbroke. My feeling is that the village is now more fragmented than it ever has been since I moved here in 2006. Although some people were telling me, even then, that the village was made up of 3 discrete communities, I must admit that I didn't see it quite like that, although there did seem to be groups of people who very rarely communicated with each other. The sense of fragmentation I get now comes from the very real division between what could be described as the haves and the have-nots. And from the conversations I have had during the past two or three weeks I get the message that the people of Stradbroke consider the majority of current parish councillors to belong to the first group, not the second. I think that view comes from the fact that there has not been an election for the parish council since 1999 and that there is a perception that the parish council has been self-selecting in all that time.

This is why it's refreshing that there is now an election, when the people of Stradbroke will hopefully flock in their hundreds to the polling station on 7th May and choose those people they wish to represent them. And maybe the new parish council will be one that is united, and one which will send a message of hope and healing to the community and say to them "Look, we stand shoulder to shoulder, all of us here in the village, and we want what's best for the young, the middle-aged, the old; we want what's best for those who have been so badly hit by the politics of austerity; we want us all to be equal, with an equal voice and an equal say in the affairs of this our home." I certainly hope so.

Please make the effort to vote on 7th May.

I continue to strongly support the candidacies of Caroline Barnes, George Chaplin, Oliver Coles, Lynda Ellison-Rose, Brian Goffee, James Hargrave, Maureen John, Velda Lummis, and Ellie Wharton.

Promoted by Richard Pierce-Saunderson of Spring Cottage, Church Street, Stradbroke, Suffolk, IP21 5HT.

28 April 2015

Campaign Trail - Days 15 and 16

I've been too busy with real life to blog about this wonderful election campaign for a few days, which may or may not be a good thing. Only you can judge that.

Sunday was a historic day (and I refuse to write "an historic" because it's weird) for me. Ever since I started playing cricket again in England, my dream has been to take the field in the same team as one of my children, and on Sunday that wish/dream finally came true. I was fortunate enough to be asked to play for Stradbroke Cricket Club against Old Newton Cricket Club with my 14-year-old daughter. Despite her nerves (and mine), she had a fine game, and clean bowled two grown men (and confided to me afterwards that she'd felt so nervous before she came on to bowl that she though she was going to be sick). I was so proud of her. And dead chuffed that I managed to get a few runs later on in the game when she was watching from the score box. And even more chuffed when she managed a little wave to me from that score box after putting on her pads and waiting to bat at number 11 (the need for her to bat never came, much to her relief).

Well, you may ask, what has playing cricket with one of your kids got to do with campaigning to be elected onto Stradbroke Parish Council? Quite a lot, actually. It's just one manifestation of the pride I have in my children, in the way in which they shape my life, not I theirs. And my view of my role on the parish council is to ensure even more children shape not just my life, but the life of this village. The make-up of the current council is very much one of old men (some exceptions spring to mind), and I would be very surprised if the average age of the Parish Council was much below 60. How likely does this make it that the parish council actually listens and takes into account the views of young people? And by young people, I mean really young people, not people in their twenties, but the real shapers of the future, the 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18-year-olds.

My family is very fortunate to have four very politically aware and frighteningly aspirational children. Unfortunately, this can be something of a rarity in a rural setting, where aspiration can often be frowned upon, where children are told they should know their place and where they're too often told by institution after institution that they'll work, live and die in the place where they were born. And that's no good, no good at all.

That's why I want to reiterate my point from earlier in this campaign, that the parish council should actively co-opt 16-18-year-olds onto the council, with the right to vote on decisions that matter. Nationally, youngsters should be allowed to vote in national and local elections from the age of 16, in my view. That change must come, and that change will reinvigorate not just young people's interest in politics, it will reinvigorate politics and government, especially if it's linked with full proporational representation to replace the corrupt and ridiculous first-past-the-post electoral system this country has in place at the moment. We need this change to stop this country being mired forever in the mess that is right-wing politics and endless populism and personality-driven, media-determined electoral outcomes.

Vote for change.

Promoted by Richard Pierce-Saunderson of Spring Cottage, Church Street, Stradbroke, Suffolk, IP21 5HT.

26 April 2015

Campaign Trail - Days 13 and 14

If I start with Day 14 first, I bumped into a couple in the pub this evening after playing cricket (unsuccessfully) for Stradbroke, and had a long conversation with them about the parish council elections. The most concerning thing I heard from them was (again) that they weren't aware that there was a parish council election, and that they didn't know how to vote for the parish council, so I hope the Stradbroke Monthly drops through their letterbox as soon as possible to enlighten them.

What I found really interesting was their view of the parish council - and these are two people who have lived in the village for an age. I quote. "The parish council are all just farmers and landowners in it for themselves, and they try to make as much money as possible for themselves by approving the selling of their land to build houses on. We don't want more houses here, because Stradbroke will stop being a village. We don't want them on the parish council any more because they're just in it for themselves." I am incapable of transcribing the Suffolk accent, but I think the message is fairly clear.

And that's another reason I'm standing for the parish council, and strongly supporting the candidacies of Caroline Barnes, George Chaplin, Oliver Coles, Lynda Ellison-Rose, Brian Goffee, James Hargrave, Maureen John, Velda Lummis, and Ellie Wharton. These are all people who want the parish council to change from what it is at the moment, people who care deeply about Stradbroke and its people. They are good and honest men and women. Please support them. Oh, and me.

Reverting to Day13, I am overjoyed to say that I have finally managed to winkle out at least one hater, although I am very disappointed that it's taken two weeks of campaigning to do so. The hater, of course, was anonymous. If it was only one hater, of course, because there were two comments on my blog, although they were so similar (and one of them was deleted for some obscure reason) that I am sure it's the same person.

Now, of course it could be one of my legion of ex-girlfriends who left the comments, but I doubt it somehow. I'm not sure they'd be bothered to track me down to the wilds of Suffolk, and I'm convinced there aren't any outstanding paternity suits against me. So it can really only be someone with a vested interest in the parish council elections. I, of course, have no clue as to who this could be.

Those comments in full:

More self-righteous crap from someone who hasn't got a clue.

Ok.

yet more sanctimonious BS from someone who has no idea what he talking about.

Even better. The grammar especially has me fearing for my intellect.

A couple of definitions:

self-righteous - having or characterized by a certainty, especially an unfounded one, that one is totally correct or morally superior. I have to say that I know I am morally superior to those people who are out-Casual-Vacancying The Casual Vacancy  in this village and have been doing so for well over a year. I also am absolutely certain that my post yesterday was absolutely factual about the disclosures on my day job (although, in the cricket dressing room today, the rumours and accusations resurfaced that I am actually a paid hitman, and those rumours I cannot and will not comment on).

sanctimonious - making a show of being morally superior to other people. I refer the gentleman (or lady) who wrote those comments to the above comment on the definition above. And, actually, as far as my morals are concerned, please look at my less than light-hearted comment about my ex-girlfriends and paternity suits. And if being honest and open is interpreted as being sanctimonious and self-righteous, I have to accept that I am obviously both of those.

I think I'll leave the long-term final judgment on all that to my God. In the short term, however, I'll leave it to the good people of Stradbroke, like the couple I mentioned at the beginning, whom I left in the pub after being thanked for talking with them, and who said they'd vote for me. That'll do me.


Promoted by Richard Pierce-Saunderson of Spring Cottage, Church Street, Stradbroke, Suffolk, IP21 5HT.

24 April 2015

Campaign Trail - Days 11 and 12

There's been a lot going on in my life, and it feels like the first four months of this year have been concatenated into one week. I finally finished The Casual Vacancy, and while some folk have been telling me that it stretches the boundaries of credulity, I was left feeling disappointed at how normal it actually was, and part of me felt, too, that it was written in a very patronising tone towards those of lesser means. Maybe I got the wrong impression. However, it did focus my mind on how we should define the position of an unpaid elected representative.

Some schools of thought would define it as volunteering. I'm not so sure about that. I know that volunteers are difficult to find, for local clubs, societies, charities and the like, and that the time they give up to do their volunteering is extremely precious, both to them, and to the organisations they volunteer for, and that their contributions in time can be measured as financial benefits for those organisations. However, I don't believe that those volunteers are publicly accountable, nor are they relied upon to represent the views of those who have elected them (because they haven't been elected, for one).

Entering public service, on the other hand, be that paid or unpaid (as in the case of serving at most levels in local government), immediately makes you publicly accountable. You have a duty to disclose your interests, financial and otherwise, you have a duty to listen to those who elected you, and, to be frank, to those who didn't elect you. You have a responsibility to think about the effects your actions will have on the entire community you serve. I have said this before, and I'll say it again - parish councils are businesses, just like charities are businesses, just like large public or private limited companies are businesses. It doesn't matter if you're counting funds in terms of a few pounds and pence, or in terms of millions of pounds. In public service you have a fiscal and pastoral responsibility, and, possibly even more significantly, a duty of care to the public body you serve on and to the public served by that local government body. And one of the most important facets of this duty of care is the reputation management of the body you serve on.

My day job is to manage a charity which has an annual income of about £3 million, and which has assets of around £57 million (and those numbers are in the public domain, so I'm not disclosing what I shouldn't disclose). I work towards a budget. The charity accounts are published annually, and are available for everyone to see. Even though there is no duty on the charity (or me) to disclose in those accounts precisely what my salary is, I have insisted to the charty's auditors and trustees that the accounts continue to disclose what I earn, because I believe that the charity and I should be, must be, publicly accountable, and that, in an age where the salaries of charity chief executives (and CEOs of commercial organisations) are under increasing scrutiny and criticism, we can demonstrate that our pay structure is not one that deprives the charity of money it could more effectively be paying out in grants.

That is why, if I am elected onto the parish council, I will be asking for the financial processes (and the actual numbers) to be made much more transparent to the general public. In specific, I think the Parish Council should publish, via notice boards, via its (publicly-accountable and governed by specific local government legislation) web site, via the Stradbroke Monthly, and via any other media, the following:
  • monthly management accounts (to the last penny, not a summary), including performance against budget;
  • records of attendance by parish councillors;
  • records of how parish councillors have voted on all parish council votes;
  • a monthly statement on what activities have been undertaken by the council and its employees;
  • a quarterly assessment its own performance.
And that's just for starters. I don't believe the Parish Council is at the moment as publicy accountable as it should be, nor its processes as transparent as they should be, nor its councillors as recognisable in the village as they should be. A separate requirements should be for the parish noticeboards to have photographs of all the councillors on them so that people living in Stradbroke are actually given the chance of recognising their elected representatives when they meet them in the street, or the baker's, or the shop, or the butcher's, or anywhere.

And before anyone says that surely the recording of the parish council meetings now makes the council entirely transparent and publicly accountable - it doesn't. It gives some of the public a chance to listen to what's been said at meetings. It doesn't make public and open all those things I have itemised in the list above.

Elected representatives have no right to live in the shadows - nor should they.

Promoted by Richard Pierce-Saunderson of Spring Cottage, Church Street, Stradbroke, Suffolk, IP21 5HT.

22 April 2015

Campaign Trail - Day 10

I'm still manfully fighting my way through The Casual Vacancy. I'm about three quarters of the way through now, and it's suddenly dawned on me that it's not really about parish council politics but about parenting, and joyless parenting at that. If it had really been about parish council politics, I think many people would have struggled to believe the level of venom and outlandishness which sometimes invades local politics.

Talking of parenting, I have had many conversations over the past few years with my young friends here in the village about what rural living is actually about. On the one hand, many youngsters grow quickly out of wanting to live in what is the middle of nowhere, and move away as soon as they can (university, work in a large city, etc etc). The point I always make here is that, as parents, it's our duty to provide our young children with somewhere safe to live, and to provide for them, as they grow older, a sanctuary, somewhere for them to come back to when they need respite from whatever their life has decided to throw at them.

And it's exactly for those reasons that I've been campaigning against the Grove Farm development (or at least the proposed size of it), why I opposed the proposed siting of the Co-op, and why I campaigned to save Stradbroke Library, and wholeheartedly supported the siting of the Post Office in the library. To keep Stradbroke a safe place, to make it somewhere that young families can settle without having to worry about traffic, or overpopulation, or the exploitation of the countryside by developers; to give them a chance to put down roots, to empower them to be able to choose what direction their lives will take, to build sanctuary. You may say that's utopian, that this note is nothing but pretty words without much policy behind it, but you'd be wrong. All policies need to be guided by vision, all actions need to be led by emotion and by caring.

And here are some policies to support that vision:

  • introduction of 20 mph speed limit in Stradbroke;
  • introduction of 30 mph speed limit to 2 miles out of Stradbroke in all directions;
  • cycling/walking paths along all main roads out of the village to the nearest villages;
  • pedestrian crossing at the junction of Queen Street and Church Street;
  • restrictions on size of housing developments;
  • co-option of 16-18-year-olds onto parish council;
  • Community Centre to be operated by the parish council not by a separate entity;
  • free swimming for 16-18-year-old Stradbroke residents.
Those are practical policies, not utopian pipe dreams. And it's time land-owners put their hands in their pockets rather than pocketing as much profit as possible from the labours of those who actually matter in the village.

Promoted by Richard Pierce-Saunderson of Spring Cottage, Church Street, Stradbroke, Suffolk, IP21 5HT.

20 April 2015

Campaign Trail - Days 8 and 9

Some days are duller than others. I got up on Saturday morning full of good intentions, meaning to get some roofing felt for one of my sheds that the recent winds have shredded the roof of. For one reason or another (old age and disorganisation being the two main ones) I didn't get into Diss until after noon, by which time the shops I could have bought felt from had closed. As the rest of the family were on gymnastics/shopping expeditions, I drove up to Pulham Market, but no luck there either. So that was half a day wasted. I drove back into the village with a sense that it's not battle axes being sharpened we need to worry about, but invisible darts being dipped in poison ink.

On that note, I'm struggling my way through J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy in a desperate attempt to achieve some insight into how the politics of parish councils and parish council elections might work. I am finding it very difficult going, with no redemption at all to the misery and skulduggery. The only remotely sympathetic character so far is Barry, and he dies on the third page, so I'm not giving much away there. Is this really what people are like, sly and scurrilous and hateful and wicked, right down into their bones, with not even the slightest instance of humour to temper them and their actions? Is this really what the appetite for power does to people, be that power by sitting around a table in the public eye, or power exerted from behind the scenes in an attempt to manipulate outcomes? Surely not.

The rest of the day I spent in the bosom of my lovely family, even allowing myself to watch Britain's Got Talent, that most awful TV programme of all, and sorting out my wood store for the delivery of 3 cubic metres of wood on Sunday, which duly arrived at about nine o'clock. No lie-in for the wicked on the day of rest. Make of that what you will when you read through the ballot paper on 7th May and decide where to put your mark.

So the wood was delivered by a lovely young man from Bungay way whom I had a really good conversation with. We were talking about me being a published author and he said what a shame it was that he wouldn't be able to read any of my books because he's severely dyslexic, which led us on to talking about schooling and the lack of aspiration in villages. I'm glad he makes a decent living from tree surgery and selling firewood to people like me, because he works hard, has real aspirations, and deserves to be successful.

Anyway, two thirds of the way through shifting and stacking this 3 cubic metres of wood, I get a phone call asking me to play cricket for Stradbroke Cricket Club's Academy side as someone has dropped out at the last minute through injury. I rush through the rest of the stacking, enjoy a fulsome Sunday roast (delicious, with red cabbage, which makes any meal a feast), and turn up at the ground just in time to field for a mammoth 30 minutes. After tea (just a little Bakewell tart for me, thanks), I fluke my way to 34 runs, on the way to which I pass the landmark of 2,000 runs for the club. Don't ask me what my average is, because it's pathetic. I'm just a bloke who loves and plays cricket, not a cricketer.

We lose, unfortunately, but the seven Under-14s playing for us really impress me, and make me hope that our Youth section is regaining the strength it had five years ago. The thing is, as we discuss over a leisurely pint after the game, a spineless ECB selling away the rights to international cricket to Sky for blood money doesn't help, because hardly anyone in the 10-16-year age range gets to see any cricket anymore. It needs to be on free-to-air television, simple as. I should add that to my manifesto for the General Election, really - all international sport to be on free-to-air.

At the game I got a lot of questions from local parents about the Grove Farm development, telling me how unhappy they are that the Parish Council approved the panning application, albeit 6-5, belying reports in the press that it's a 50:50 split as to who in the village is for or against the development. I tell them all that they can still object to the development on the Mid-Suffolk planning pages until 21st April. However, life being so busy for all these people, what with supporting their children at cricket matches (and in other sports), and working ridiculous hours in these times of austerity to scratch a living, I doubt any of them will really find the time to do so. Which makes it even more important that a parish council represents the views of the inhabitants of a village like Stradbroke rather than representing merely the views of those who sit on the council. This is where local government goes wrong too often - self-interest rather than altruism.

Think on that.


Promoted by Richard Pierce-Saunderson of Spring Cottage, Church Street, Stradbroke, Suffolk, IP21 5HT.

18 April 2015

Campaign Trail - Day 7

All appears quiet in the village, battle-axes being sharpened in secret, no doubt. Friday dawns grey and glum here in the the place even district politicians seem to think is in the middle of nowhere, surprised as they were when we were fighting to save the library at how far they had to travel and how winding the roads and lanes are that lead to the crossroads that are the centre of Stradbroke. It has a right to be in the middle of nowhere, the church firmly planted at the top of what is possibly one of only a very few inclines in Suffolk, and the skies huge above and around.

The morning I spent in a primary school in Bury St. Edmunds, observing a workshop being given by a national children's charity, a workshop on recognising the first signs of physical, domestic and sexual abuse, part of a nation-wide programme aimed at preventing the sexual abuse of children, workshops being given, typically, to Years 5 and 6. One of the biggest surprises was how open some of the children were with revealing what went on behind the closed doors of their family homes. Some theatres of fear are almost impossible to contemplate in their awfulness, and those of us lucky enough to have complete lives should be grateful for that, and strive not to break others' lives even more, but to mend them.

The sun of Bury St. Edmunds faded behind me when I made my way eastwards again, and by the time I'd emerged from the gridlock that was early-afternoon Diss, it had completely disappeared, replaced by that horrible damp cold that insinuates itself into every breath, every step, every movement. I was glad to be able to hide behind my desk again and deal with other aspects of my day job at one remove. But, alas, the respite didn't last for long because that one remove, the internet, once again, slowed to the incredible crawl that BT appears to reserve for rural communities it deems to be in the middle of nowhere and which, by dint of being perceived to be in the middle of nowhere, have no right to fibre-optic communications, in fact have no communications rights at all, unless those rights accrue by coincidence or accident.

That's one thing the Parish Council should be putting its full weight behind, forcing the government and BT to speed up delivery of fibre-optics into Stradbroke, rather than supporting half-baked ideas of exploding the population of Stradbroke into the unmanageable and condemning the broadband contention rate to sink into a Hades-like abyss from which it has little or no chance of ever being resurrected. It's important to point out that it's not just middle-aged codgers like me who want (and need) fast broadband. The village needs it to keep hold of its young people, to make it easier for those young people to stay here, to persuade their employers to let them work from home. It would also encourage more businesses to actually settle in the countryside rather than finding themselves drawn to the nearest large conurbation which the government and BT sees as deserving of a fit-for-purpose communications infrastructure.

And that's why we need more young people involved in the parish council, and more people to come to parish council meetings, to put pressure on the council to actually do something practical rather than tinkering with this and that, or discussing dog droppings, or playing war games. In the interests of positive campaigning, I'll not make that list any longer.

The internet is not a plaything for the middle classes. It is not a mechanism purely intended for social media or playing games. It is a vital part of everyday life, business life, and for a village like Stradbroke to have insufficient bandwidth is not an insignificant little issue. It has everything to do with keeping the village alive, making it thrive, making it attractive to young people, building it back up from the ground.

Promoted by Richard Pierce-Saunderson of Spring Cottage, Church Street, Stradbroke, Suffolk, IP21 5HT.

17 April 2015

Campaign Trail - Days 5 and 6

I'm a day behind with this narrative, so I'm merging two days into one, which is what life really seems to be like at the moment anyway. They say time goes more quickly the older you get, and this seems to be the case with me, too, despite my goal of living until I'm 125, hence the smoking and drinking and running and fencing and cricket and whatever else seems to keep me alive. Oh yes, standing for election to the august Stradbroke Parish Council.

We often struggle to put our lives in context because we get so caught up with our everyday ailments and struggles, financial, mental or otherwise. I often think that people most obsessed with themselves and too comfortable in their lives (and, to be honest, bored with them) are those who fail to find this context at all, which is why they focus on something outside themselves that they decide to destroy so they can claim to have power not just over their own shabby lives but over the lives of others, too. Which only goes to reinforce to me how important it is to look at the bigger picture for a context, and to campaign positively, not just in parish council elections, but in life in general.

My context, these last two days, has been to visit charities that my employer supports. Yesterday evening I went to an annual presentation by a charity which supports people in the UK with facial and bodily disfigurements. There are one and a half million people who suffer these disfigurements, and the NHS currently gives them precious little support because of a lack of funding (note my manifesto pledges on NHS spending in my last blog post), and because, for one reason or another, the system regards disfigurement as something purely cosmetic rather than life-limiting. 'It's only worth doing something if it saves lives,' seems to be the mantra nowadays in health sector management, and, to be truthful, in the glory hunter sections of the Third Sector, too.

The interesting thing is that the real issue is how 'normal' people react to disfigurement, not how those suffering the disfigurements perceive themselves. That's because constant staring and bullying breaks down someone's resistance, after a while, and the effects of that actually do become life-threatening (and mental health, again, is something people seem to see as a state of mind rather than an illness, but a discussion of that is for another day). The charity in question, which shall remain nameless because I cannot single out charities in my line of work, does a huge amount of work to raise public awareness of the damage such bullying and staring can do, as well as holding Skin Camouflage clinics to at least allow their service users to improve their self-perception.

Last night, a young woman spoke for four minutes about how, as she came up to having her tenth operation on her disfigurement, as a teenage girl, she had looked in the mirror and asked herself if it was even worth enduring all those operations, all the loneliness, all the bullying, name-calling, stereotyping, her studies once again interrupted as she came up to her A levels, and her recalling of her desperation visibly moved all those listening. It was then, at her darkest moment, that she saw a poster advertising the charity I'm talking about, and decided it was time she sought help, help provided by the unselfish grants and donations made to this charity, and by the unselfish time given to the charity by its volunteers.

And this is the context I'm talking about. We, as supposedly normal people, need to see the bigger picture, make sure the attitude we show on a personal level, on a local political level, is one that is supportive of those less fortunate than us, is one which empowers other people, and isn't a land-grab for power that we preceive is ours. That woman, by the way, is now a writer on a very successful BBC One show, lives in London, and has a very happy life.

Of course, you say, what has this to do with being on the campaign trail? Everything, I say, because I hope it demonstrates to you that I'm a candidate who cares about the community he lives in, who will give a voice to those who live in this village and who find that their voice is not being heard or being heard and ignored, a man who will stop and listen, and who will do his best to make sure that local needs and wishes are fulfilled. And that's positive campaigning.

Onwards.

Promoted by Richard Pierce-Saunderson of Spring Cottage, Church Street, Stradbroke, Suffolk, IP21 5HT.

15 April 2015

Campaign Trail - Day 4

Oh, there's nothing like the hurly-burly of a local election campaign, is there? It's more high-octane than a general election campaign. I'm lying, of course, although I think you'd be surprised by some of the goings-on behind the scenes.

I did, yesterday, which was indeed Day 4, spend most of my time very tiredly doing my day job after only 3 hours' sleep thanks to the poor performance of Abellio Greater Anglia. I was also running various ideas about new novels around my head. If I had time to write a book a month, the next 12 months would probably already be taken.

After taking a Special Delivery letter to the Post Office (and it is brilliant to have a Post Office in the village again, and in our wonderful library), I bumped into an old friend of mine whom I've known since I moved into the village in 2006, and for whom I have a huge amount of affection and time. But only now, 9 years later, have we both discovered that we have the same political inclinations on a national level, which may explain why we've been so simpatico since Day 1.

Talking of national politics, I thought I'd share my basic aims if I were leading a political party in this General Election. Make of them what you will.


Education
Education to become a cross-party department led by a paid professional not by a Minister of State.
Education funding protected and to rise 0.25%/y above inflation.
Move away from the idea that everyone should go to university (drop-out rate in first year is over 50% currently).
Abolish free schools.
Abolish public schools.
Abolish tuition fees.

Health & Care
Health to become a cross-party department led by a paid professional not by a Minister of State.
Review of mid-management staffing in NHS with the aim of eliminating at least one strata of management.
Additional £2 bil/y funding.
NHS funding protected and to rise 0.25%/y above inflation from 2018.
Integrate health and social care.
Means-tested charge for GP visits - £10 per visit to a maximim £100/year for those earning over £30k/y.

Economy
Generate surplus on current budget each year in order to reduce deficit.
Raise minimum wage to £9/hour in 2015, then rises with inflation.
Increase apprenticeships and the efficiency of apprenticeships.
Ban zero-hours contracts.
Cap on bankers’ bonuses and basic salaries.

Immigration
Legal immigration is a red herring, and all the parties using it for political purposes are guilty of cheap populism.
Employers must pay immigrants the minimum wage.

Welfare
Simplify the benefits system.
Abolish Bedroom Tax and work capability assessment.
Child Benefit means-testing to apply to household income not individual income.
Support the jobless in finding work rather than making them work to earn benefits.
More effective benefit fraud detection and resolution.

Law & Order
Scrap Police & Crime Commissioners.
Increase spending on neighbourhood policing.
End imprisonment for possessing drugs for personal use.
Overhaul Stop & Search rules.

Housing
By 2020 build 200,000 new homes/year.
Guarantee 3-year tenancies for private sector.
Cap rent increases in the private sector.
No right-to-buy.

Foreign & Defence
Abandon Trident nuclear programme.
Ban arms exports.
Maintain overseas aid at 0.7% of GDP.
Stop EU-US free trade deal TTIP.

Pensions
Maintain triple lock so pensions rise by the highest of inflation, earnings, or 2.5%.
Reform pensions market which currently favours providers rather than customers.
No winter fuel payments for pensioners in 40% and above tax brackets.

Europe
No in/out referendum.
Reform Common Agricultural Policy.

Energy
Renationalise all public utilities.
Zero-carbon UK by 2060.
No nuclear.
Increased investment in renewable power sources.
Ban fracking.

Taxation
Increase personal allowance to £12,000/year.
20% tax on £12,001-£33,000/year salaries.
40% tax on £33,001-£100,000/year salaries.
50% tax on £100,001-£200,000/year salaries.
60% tax on £200,001-£250,000/year salaries.
70% tax on £250,001 upwards.
Abolish 10% dividend credit.
No dividend tax for basic rate tax payers is maintained.
Dividend tax for tax payers in 40% and above brackets is the same as personal taxation.

Transport
Renationalise the railway system.
Immediately cut all public transport fares by 12%.
Scrap the High Speed 2 rail project.
Haulage firms only for local journeys; railway for long-haul freight transportation.

Government
Polling day to be changed to Sundays.
Full Proportional Representation.
Significant local issues to be resolved by referendums.
 
There you go. 10 Downing Street, here I come.


Promoted by Richard Pierce-Saunderson of Spring Cottage, Church Street, Stradbroke, Suffolk, IP21 5HT.