Friday, 10 March 2017

'A fortnight ago things changed...'

A summer meet of the Friends of Black Patch Park outside the Soho Foundry Tavern
.... for Black Patch Park and its friends. It was not as if The Friends haven't left a lobbying trail since we founded ourselves 13 years ago. But last year - 16th March 2016 - we met the late Darren Cooper when he was the Leader of Sandwell MBC. Unofficially he assured us that things must change. We had prepared a draft report on the case for bringing back housing along the edges of the Black Patch, arguing that only by having people who opened their windows and doors onto the park was there a hope of restoring and maintaining it.
In the meantime the park became more and more ravaged by fly-tipping - with the worst we'd ever seen hitting even the national press at the end of February. Given the amplifying repetitiousness of these problems I didn't hold out much hope for the meeting we'd sought with the new Leader of the Council several weeks earlier. Phil Crumpton and I had sat in the middle of a wrecked space venting - feeling our hopes were futile, wasted.
Three years ago we'd designed a visitor's trail for the Black Patch - 'striving to renew a place' 
In February last year we'd written about 'bringing people back to the Black Patch'
Leader's Office - Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council 23 Feb 2017
L-R Simon B, Andrew Simon, Phil Crumpton (FoBPP), Cllr Richard Marshall, Cabinet member for Leisure, Cllr Steve Eling, Leader of Sandwell MBC, Ajman Ali, Interim Director, Neighbourhood Strategy, Sandwell, 
Ash Barker and Harjinder Jheet (FoBPP)  (photo: Max Cookson, Transport & Waste Operations Manager)

At the meeting between Cllr Steve Eling, Leader of Sandwell MBC and the Friends of Black Patch Park on 23 Feb 2017, Cllr Eling said he was impressed at the comprehensiveness of the report that the Friends had produced, recommending that people be brought back to Black Patch Park as the only solution to its neglect and blighting. His Cabinet had walked around the park a few weeks earlier. He had followed our case. He agreed with our plan and its arguments for rezoning the area for new housing around the park and beyond. This, the Leader agreed, was the only way to resolve what he described as the ‘conundrum of the Black Patch’ - a problem created by a prolonged series of failed piece-meal measures; in particular, a repetitive cycle of forced illegal entry, consequent trashing, expensive clearance, inadequate boundary securing and monitoring. “Black Patch” he declared “has been historically disadvantaged by its lack of connectivity. But there’s a new connectivity which changes the fortunes of the Black Patch”. There would be no solution to the ‘Black Patch conundrum’ without a restorative strategy for this part of the Borough.
- Such a strategy must not be implemented piecemeal, since piecemeal actions have brought about the notorious problems of the Black Patch,
- The strategy must reconfigure ‘a new space’ that visibly and physically breaks out of the ‘isolation’ of the park created by transport and former industrial infrastructure – such as railway embankments and the ‘tunnel’ of Queenshead bridge,
- This new space is an answer to the challenge of how to create a sustainable community in the area; bringing new tenants and residents in affordable housing, not only to the borders of the park, but to a wider area, via additional housing along a new hub-walkway linking Black Patch to the Metro station on Handsworth New Road and the neighbourhood of Birmingham’s Soho district.
Note: These are the views of the FoBPP following their meeting at Sandwell Council offices but I received this email y'day:
'Good Afternoon Simon. Both the Leader, Cllr Steve Eling and Cabinet Member for Leisure, Cllr Richard Marshall have agreed that your draft notes are an acceptable account of the meeting and are happy for them to be in the public domain. If I can be of any further assistance please do not hesitate to contact me. Many Thanks, Jane Perham, PA to The Leader'
The Friends of Black Patch Park - "We can't go on meeting like this!"
**** **** ****
Last May I got an email from Gill, the apiarist, who keeps bees on Plot 14.
I now have a nucleus colony which can go to your allotment. They are Buckfast bees, specially bred to be both docile and prolific.
So they were - a source of quiet satisfaction through the seasons, a presence on the plot, peered at carefully now and then; seen individually in flowers on the allotment and beyond. Sometimes I imagined them before I went to sleep.

In September 2016 we had our first honey off the plot. For winter Gill insulated the hive. This February I emailed her
Dear Gill. Do you have any idea how the colony on Plot 14 has weathered the winter? Last year was such a good surprise.  X Simon 
28th Feb: Simon. Unfortunately, it has not survived. Varroa depleted the colony and the cold weather put paid to the rest. I shall be getting another colony in the spring, though. Gill
Winnie and I wonder if the siting of the hive backing onto the to park fence, next to the plot shed, trees and brambles, confines the bees to a space that holds damp. We wonder about moving it to a different place on the plot - possibly a chamber inside the fruit cage open to the sky - placing any new colony in the centre of the plot. Now looking at the hive what I thought was sleep and winter quiet, is an emptied hive. Oliver has been curious about the malign work of the Varroa mite. We sat in the kitchen and I called up an animated youtube clip...
I guess fear adds to my feelings. I hate this 'thing' whose reproductive cycle parallels the bee's; that east its way into the bee's young, sucks their blood, breeds in their chambers, excretes on them, uses the bees to spread - vampires. It's not the insect that does the harm, but the diseases it carries in its parasitic life. I know that Buddhism could calm me, show how all is part of the great cycle, and even Christianity would strive to teach me that 'they know not what they do'. A test of love. Before he went to sleep - staying our house tonight - I said "Sleep tight, don't..." He completed "...let the Varroa bugs bite". 
Varroa destructor on its honeybee host

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

'A friend in a field'

Six years ago I posted some sad pictures I'd been sent of an old boat I'd once sailed - her untidy cabin filled with dirty water, her cockpit invaded by greenery. This was Young Tiger, a 22 foot Westerly built in England 53 years ago, sat in a field in an eastern state of the USA, 40 miles from the nearest sea at Baltimore on the Chesapeake.

On 27th August last year - I got a message from a stranger on my blog via Disqus
Hi, Simon. Did you ever find out what became of Young Tiger after this post? (28 July 2011) Sue is a dear friend, and I'm a young American sailor myself (though in Wales at the moment)... If no one is looking after the boat, I'd love to beg someone to let me buy her. Very best, Whitney
28 Aug 20i6: Dear Whitney...I send you details of the family of the man - John Coyle - who had put Young Tiger on that flatbed trailer hoping - though it sounds an old man’s dream - to sail her off the New England coast. This email address may well be out of date by now. The old man in my record is down as:
John Coyle (son-in-law Sean, daughter Sara) ** Roland Place, N.W.,
Washington, D.C., 20008 USA. Phone:  001 (202) *** ****  owner of Young Tiger, Frederick Maryland. Source of this info: Gordon Gemeny PO Box ***, Dowell, Maryland, 20629, US    It’s all gone a little historical now, but I’d be fascinated to know more, as I am sure would Sue.  Best wishes and good luck, Simon
28 Aug: Dear Simon. I was delighted to hear from you. I’ve sent an email to Sean and Sarah straightaway. I’m in Wales at the moment, but back to the US in early October and quite serious about finding YT if I can. I’m based in South Carolina, but I work in the DC area regularly and expect I might be up that way again in the autumn. I won’t get my hopes up too high, but buying a soggy 1960s boat that would need huge amounts of restoration has really caught my imagination, I confess. I’m a builder of sorts by trade (very good dry-stone waller, sort of rubbishy carpenter, etc), so I hope I could do a bit of it myself.
I was with Sue just last week, and she mentioned you and that very Merry Wives reunion as we drove along the A470 together!
Miriam, Sue and I in London at a 50 year reunion of another adventure ~ 14 Nov 2015
She is an extraordinary woman - one of my very favorites. She and Phil were the first to take me sailing some years ago...
Sue, Phil and Whitney aboard Vicki at Aberaeron
 ...and I’m so grateful to them for it. I’ve gone on to do a few RYA courses since then (currently sitting comfortably at Day Skipper level after a week in St Lucia last February), and I’ve sailed newer, bigger French boats as well as older, creakier wooden boats like a Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter, but it’s the little Westerly I love best. They’re so approachable. Sometime a few years ago Sue and I were sitting on her front lawn having a gin and catching up after I’d returned from my first big sail when suddenly she disappeared into the house for a few minutes with no explanation … She returned holding one of the charts from your voyage. “I found this the other day while I was clearing up,” she said. I can’t recall if it was Barbados or the Grenadines she had in her hands, but we talked for a long time about the sea that afternoon. It was a lovely moment. Wish me luck, and thanks again for the quick response! I’ll let you know if I hear anything back. Very best, Whitney

28th Aug 2016:  Dear Sean and Sarah. Please forgive this email out of the blue. I’m trying to find the whereabouts of a little Westerly 22 called Young Tiger. I think you know Simon Baddeley - at least electronically. His companion on Young Tiger's big Atlantic crossing, Sue Pulford (now Best), is a very dear friend of mine and the reason I began sailing just a few years ago.
Sue Pulford 1966
I linked up with Simon via his blog just a few days ago, and he’s very kindly pointed me to you. I’m sorry to bother, but I thought it might be worth a shot to email you. I hope you don’t mind.
I’m in Wales at the moment, which is where Sue lives and where I’ve trained and still work sometimes as a dry-stone waller, but I’m American. I’m from South Carolina (don’t hold that against me!), but I spend much of the year on the road for work, leaving a trail of beautiful stone wherever I go. I even built on the National Mall earlier this summer as part of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, though the bulk of my work is down in the mountains of southwestern Virginia and here in the wild hills of mid-Wales. Here I am, if you’re curious:    Anyway, I’d love to know what’s happened to the boat these last few years. The last photos I saw showed her in quite a sad state. I don’t want to be too forward here since we don’t know each other at all, but I’d be so eager to rescue her if she needed it. I’m 33 and perhaps a bit foolish, but I think she’s quite a special little boat - not to mention quite special to someone I love - and I’m not afraid of a project. Even if she’s found a good home by now, I’d love to know how’s she’s faring out in the world if you have a few minutes to write.
Sue still sails a Westerly 22 after all these years. Vickie, moored in Aberaeron in Cardigan Bay, was the first boat I ever sailed on, and I fell quickly in love. I’ve gone on to sail bigger, newer boats here in Wales and down in St Lucia, gradually working my way up to skipper, but none have ever been as charming as the little Westerly.
Thanks very much for your time. Best wishes, Whitney Brown
Email to Whitney 29 Aug: Hello, This is Sean, the son in law of the John P. Coyle. JPC is the gentleman who owned the Young Tiger before it came to be where it is at now. She is still in the same spot in a field in Adamstown Maryland. It is most likely that she could be had for free to someone willing to take on such a project in ernest. If you are interested, I would be happy to inquire/make arrangements. Let me know .... would love to see her sail and crew with her.  Call or write us, Sean and Sarah 
29th Aug: Simon, can you believe it? More soon. Pleasantly in shock at the moment! Very best, and THANK YOU, Whitney. Sent from my iPhone
29 Aug to Whitney, copied to Susanna Best (Sue Pulford): No I do NOT believe it (:)) After hardly half a week’s checking - that’s almost disappointing - except it’s not! I too am in shock at the continuity in emails in these times of transient addresses. And so good to feel goodwill from Sean. I wonder how YT's fared on her flatbed through those Maryland seasons. I can only imagine YT wanted to be found, old timer that she is. Here are tales to tell of adventure and perhaps more to come. Best, Simon
A friend in a field
23 Jan 2017: Hi Simon. I hope this finds you happy and well. I’m sorry to be out of touch so long. The autumn just seemed to slip away with one thing and another ... And a very nasty election. (I was marching in Washington on Saturday, rest assured)

I’ve just finished an email to Sue updating her on my morning’s adventure, so I thought I’d better check in with you as well. Finally, in horrendous weather, I went to see Young Tiger in her field in rural Maryland. She is just as Sean described her to me in his email: in a bit of a sad state, but not beyond repair. I was disappointed to see that her spars are all rotted, but I do think the hull will be just fine with some TLC. Then there’s the matter of, oh, ALL of the equipment: sails, radio, battery, engine, loo, cooker, lights, etc! It will take me a bit to get sorted so that I can begin the restoration process, but I am keen to do so. I want her to be beautiful again, and while I probably won’t sail her across an ocean, I’d love to get her down to Admiralty Bay in Bequia once more ... Best,
Young Tiger in Admiralty Bay, Bequia 1966

23 Jan 2017: Dear Whitney. We are well and I’m the happier for seeing that striking image of you and Young Tiger. It was easier to see you in the crowd on Independence Avenue, because it was so small compared to the previous day’s inauguration where the crowd was many times larger than at the 'nasty women’s' march. I have access to 'alternative facts’, as will we all for the next few years.
What a really lovely picture. So you traced Young Tiger to a field under autumn trees in Maryland; Denys Rayner’s small boat that looked after us along the coasts of Spain and Africa, the Canaries, the Caribbean Islands, the Bahamas and on the deep ocean between those magic shores.
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Sue phoned me, seconds before I opened your email. You have stirred dream memories of an adventure long ago.  Your journey to a field in Maryland seems destined, and you are to windward of us in age, energy and enthusiasm.  I’m not surprised those spruce spas have rotted - through neglect rather than use.  I am excited at your plans for restoration and am sure, as is Sue, that you can make ‘our' little ship whole again. Make her yours. She’s not been properly owned for decades. If you want a rough ground plan of the boat from the original brochure that came with each model including YT, just ask. I have it in my files and can easily get it copied.  All the very best, Simon
So she's 3570 miles away as the crow flies, far further by other means, and - so it feels - in time. Last Wednesday, Whitney and I met in London, and over a long lunch at the Lighterman in Granary Square, ran through what I remembered about the boat she is taking under her capable wings. I gave her a copy of the plans - inside and out of the W22, and ran through the gunter rig, the reasoning behind bilge ballast keels, the evolution of YT's design in the mind of Ben Rayner and the boat's aesthetic, the reason Denys preferred outboard motors, 'Blondie' Hasler's self-steering gear as its inventor had explained it to me, the simplicity of Mary Blewitt's guide to taking noon sights - whch I reckoned W had begun to learn on her Day Skipper course and would hardly need in the days of SatNav. I am inspired by this continuity; not a revisit, a relay. Whitney Brown is a true grafter. I cannot imagine anyone more qualified in character, knowledge and craft to take on the challenge of taking Young Tiger back to the sea where she should be.
Landfall on Barbados - 5 Jan 1966 "Clouds collected during the night, obscuring the bright moon, and at dawn it was blowing hard with rain everywhere and haze ahead. We stared ahead until our eyes ached. Suddenly a break in the cloud let through a sunbeam which shone on the land about 10 miles off - green and incredibly exciting."*

A message on 8th March from me to WB on Facebook:
I am told this was the original Rosie. It's clear you have all the skills and craft and strength to remake YT. My concern is the interaction, over many years, of saltwater, iron, and fibre glass as this may affect the integrity of the keel bolts. Ben Rayner built to Lloyds spec, as you know, which means that he would have wanted heart and soul that no manufacturing blemish would endanger your safety at sea in any boat that came from him. His character gave me cause to sleep sound on stormy nights. The other area (there may be many others you will find) that would concern me, would be the pulpit fixings, but much more important is strength, after 50+ years, of the mast bracket. Rayner intended that the curve of deck and hull provide the strongest resistance to the forces on the rig exerted through that, but recall that the gunter rig has no back-stay, which means either aft shroud will take the unsupported force of the boom in the event of a hard gybe. Oh and while I'm thinking on this, few things are more undignifying for you and your boat than that she become waterlogged or worse because the heads outlet or inlet fail.

*Baddeley, S., A Voyage to America, 1966 Roving Commissions (7) pp. 9–30, London:RCC Press 1967

Saturday, 25 February 2017

'...the thick rotundity o' the world'

I wake around 2.44 in the morning. Oliver, our grandson, sleeping on his mattress by our bed is coughing. I gently raise him up while he. half-asleep, lets me remake his ruffled sheets.
“Can I have dog back?” he murmurs.
I slide the still warm hot water bottle in its dog-sleeve back beside him and return to sleep. Lin comes to me later and wakes me for a moment
“He’s been coughing” I whisper.
I hear her tending to him as he slumbers. It’s 4.15. I’m not tired so I slip downstairs and go through my morning routine. Turn on the electric water heating, feed the cat, let Oscar in the garden to bark at shadows, make myself a large cup of tea and clean up the cat pee where she’s missed her litter tray again. Loads of time before my train. I send a picture of the defaced Gypsy Memorial in Black Patch Park to Cllr Richard Marshall, Sandwell MBC’s Cabinet Member for Leisure – this after the council’s website with which I’m long registered blanks me third page in when I use it to report graffiti.

Tap tap tap. Stuck! The page sticks on my screen. Phil Crumpton and I are going with Andrew Simon – all members of the Friends of Black Patch Park – to see Cllr Steve Eling, Leader of Sandwell Council on Thursday. Phil and I were looking at the £16.000 clean-up carried out by Sandwell Council staff over the weekend, after yet another extensive bout of commercial scale fly-tipping on the park. It was an opportunity to vent. Cursing like King Lear writ small on 'our' small park's blasted heath. Gradually calming to muttered imprecations

“What is it with these people, they won’t grab the opportunity to bring back people in houses around this park?”
Phil’s my perfect foil, listening and nodding in time to my furious expletive laced grumbles
“Are we to have decades more of tidying and dumping, tidying and dumping, tidying and dumping? Thanking and cursing? Thanking and cursing? Why can the Council not work out a strategy for this area?”

“They’ve placed everything about the Black Patch into a limbo when no-one even looks at the issue – politicians or managers. It’s denial and avoidance. They don’t want to know”
In the centre of Black Patch Park on Monday 20th Feb - after the Council clean-up

“At this meeting I’m not going to start getting into compliments on how swiftly the dumping, once reported in the media (which went national) was cleared …That’s thanking a thief for tidying up after a robbery”
Strippings from a domestic driveway replacement - broken up slabs and tarmac

Littering along the banks of the Hockley Brook
"Will the Leader have read our report and digested its analysis? I doubt it”
“You know I detest being like this. It’s weak. I sound like every other tedious old grumbler”
“No but sitting here in the centre of the Black Patch and having a bout of cursing is good for you and me”
“You and I, Phil!”
The clean up vehicles pushed uncollected rubbish into the remains of the park tennis courts 

We climbed in the van, parked near the Soho Road, leaving Oscar to guard the cab, and had samosas, chai and mango lassi at the London Sweet Centre.
Is there a point where an accumulation of small slights turn into a syndrome, and I become … neurotic? These terms! Neurotic, Grumpy Old Man, dyspeptic dodderer, subject to the 'wiry edge of our fretfulness'.
As I cycle in the dark on Tuesday morning, at the head of our road I see a new resident has concreted his drive to include the pavement and green verge which his several vehicles have turned to tyre-scarred mud.
I enjoy cycling into the city to catch a train in the gloom of a February dawn. I collect passing and passed vehicle registration numbers; see if they'll turn into words or their initials will make phrases. It’s balmy weather. I decide to explore a route into town I’ve not used for near 18 months - through the Jewellery Quarter instead of down Constitution Hill. I get to the foot of Newhall Hill, and of course, the continuing reconstruction of the Old Library site still blocks my old route, and I’m guided into circumlocutions too tedious to detail. I should have known. My grumpiness is amplified by self-blame. To enter the new New Street station by this route I must negotiate new tram lines best crossed at right angles. In the great new Grand Central concourse I realise, looking at the busy timetable boards, that my train is one that stops at many stations on its way, via Northampton, to London. I’d vaguely hoped when playing clever with my bookings that I’d found a bargain deal on a faster train. Will I make my St Pancras connection? In theory 'yes', as there’s half an hour to cycle the few hundred yards from Euston to St Pancras.
I present my ticket to the slot at the barrier machine and it's rejected. Why? I see a Virgin Trains staffman approaching to help, as I gaze down in the manner of an affronted and puzzled old man. As I turn to him he has already turned back two gates.
I heard him mutter “You ignored me”
“I did not
He returns and activates the gate – a large one - for me and my bicycle.
“Why did it do that?” He ignores me
“But it ignored me”
I pause, deliberately obtuse, between the doors of the opened gate, so he has to notice and shepherd the old man through the lumpish gates.
I glimpse him rolling his eyes to a colleague.
At a coffee shop I wait in a free-floating queue almost immediately jumped by a busy new arrival who’s cheerily greeted by a barista. I wander away, even as I hear another calling after me “Sir?”
At another coffee shop I order a ‘small’ latte. It is really called ‘small’ but the print was so small I squinted to see it. I get my coffee, but no receipt. I could walk away. Why fuss? It means a little bonus for staff. But I’m in grump mode.
“Receipt please!”
What next affront by man, or object, lurks to trigger my vex reflex? On platform 3A my train arrives on time. I walk with my folded bicycle to a convenient door. A red notice on the open button says ‘This door is out of order’.
On the train there’s a copy of a free newspaper. I leaf through three pages of futile print.
“Who reads this stuff?” I glower silently “The subs clocked Socrates’ guide on gossip – “Truthful? Good? Useful?” – and worked on its opposite. Thought. Did Socrates really say that or is it fake news?
Except for books, which seem to be having a slight revival, the only print I read on paper is my gift to myself, the NYRB, published 20 times a year, delivered at discount to my door, stimulating intelligence and understanding in these interesting times.

*** *** ***
In Centenary Square, Birmingham, under major reconstruction 25 years after it was created, a plane tree over a century old, was cut down this morning, as a precaution against a terrorist driving a vehicle into the square.

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