All work and no play

With the AGM in the bag we move swiftly onto the monthly Parish Council meeting. A bog standard, business as usual, routine affair for the other six Councillors; but for me, the new boy, there are the pangs of excitement and anticipation that accompany any new endeavour.

There is a slightly comical standing down and re-election of the Chairman and Vice-Chairman. With both positions uncontested, the whole charade plays out over approximately 15 seconds. Next up, allocation of roles and responsibilities; this could be interesting. A number seem to be pre-allocated, with matters pertaining to Finance, the Village Hall, Roads & Drainage, all in safe hands. As we approach the position vacated by my predecessor, I can feel the eyes of my colleagues notionally and actually focussing in my direction.

It is introduced with a gentle sales pitch; not much to do, generally looks after itself, only requires a brief monthly update. I break the brief silence by declaring that I would be happy to take on the role. They say a volunteer is worth a thousand pressed men, and I am genuinely happy to put myself forward. I will take on responsibility for management and maintenance of the village Recreation Ground.

It was only relatively recently that I realised the village had a ‘Rec’. Out walking with the dogs one day I stumbled across the secluded grassed area tucked in behind the local shop. It has all the mainstays: slide, swings, roundabout, and a pub-style park bench for parents to take the weight off whilst keeping an eye on their sprogs. To my untrained eye the Rec looks extremely well maintained, with not a rusty surface or sharp edge to be seen. I clearly have a lot to live up to.

The creative streak in me sees nothing but potential in the level grassed area adjacent to the play park. There is ample space for a five-a-side pitch, or perhaps an integrated goal/basketball hoop/metallic wall structure, the like of which adorns many a recreational space; albeit typically blighted by graffiti and not quite in keeping with our more rural setting. Either way, I feel something needs to be done. Not only to make my mark and leave a lasting legacy, but also to increase utilisation. Having passed the Rec three or four times now, I have never actually seen a single person using it. Excellent news from a maintenance perspective, but not quite serving the strategic intent.

The upcoming Village Fete provides an excellent opportunity to increase awareness of the Rec amongst the Parishioners. The grassed area would provide a perfect location to secure a Bouncy Castle, and the inevitable Coconut Shy could serve as a useful means to start introducing ball games to the arena. I decide to maximise the amount of Fete activity concentrated in my new domain, principally for two selfish reasons:

  1. A mechanism to fund a before and after mowing, with the potential addition of a restorative seeding;
  2. A means of weeding out any objections from the neighbouring houses, allowing me to target the problematic stakeholders likely to resist my long-term plans.

I am pleased to have secured this particular role in the team. It provides the kind of ‘light touch’ responsibility I was after, but sufficient healthy distraction from the day job. Coupled with secondary responsibilities of reviewing planning applications (but providing only observations and strictly no formal opinion on them), I am confident that my Parish duties will provide sufficient material to continue to fill my inbox, and of course these pages. I may be too big for the swings, but I can still gain recreation from this facility.

People who cannot find time for recreation are obliged sooner or later to find time for illness.

John Wanamaker

Any other business?

What’s better than a Parish Council meeting? You’ve guessed it, two Parish Council meetings. The first gathering since my appointment, and I learn that we are to cover both the AGM and the monthly standing agenda. How much fun can can a group of relative stangers have in two hours? Turns out, not very much.

My first decision as an elected (ish) official is not particularly grand; where to sit at the. I eye up the the chairs distributed around the table, at which only the Parish Clerk has taken position. Paranoia kicks in, with every potential position feeling like some kind of power move. I could take up the seat I suspect is reserved for the Chairman – too much. Directly oposite the Chairman – to aggresive. Next to the Chairman – too keen / suck-up. I have it on poor authority that the Korean war continued for nearly three additional months whilst the various representatives debated (amongst other things) the seating plan for the peace negotiations. I can now see why this unlikely statistic could well be true.

By the time I’ve snapped out of it, only one seat remains; I’ll be next to the Chairman and potentially forever known as the suck-up. I am surprised to see that I have unconciously already left my notepad and pen at this location, so something deep inside has clearly guided me to secure this space. I suspect I have just selected my precise place at the table for the next 4-years, we shall see what fun can be had with this over the coming months.

Being the AGM, there are a few attendees from the general public. The great unwashed are provided a row of chairs in front of the Council table, a row that is hastily added to by the Vice Chairman as the public numbers swell to five. Bang on 19:30 to AGM is brought to order.

The vast majority of the AGM agenda passes without note, save for one incredible highlight right at the start. The Chairman is obliged to read aloud two statements; an end of year summary from himself, and an end of tenure statement from the outgoing District Councillor. What follows is an extremely awkward, pre-prepared speech on the achievements of the small collection of people around the table, each name dropped and given equal coverage and praise for all they have done. Somebody commits early with a ‘here here’ in response to a particular detail, leading innevitably to the same response to each and evey acknowledgement so as not to leave anybody out.

Just as I think it can’t get any more awkward, the statement is read out on behalf of the outgoing DC. I’m alarmed to see that the two pages of well populated A4 are double sided, and what follows is a strange combination of what is clearly somebody’s heart felt departing message (potentially written with an emotional theme music accompanyment in mind) read out unenthuistically by somebody who would clearly rather be doing anything else. Note to self – if ever there was a reason not become Chairman one day, this was it.

Perhaps the strangest 20 minute opening to a meeting I have ever experienced. I trust there will be many more to trump it.


If you want me to speak for two minutes, it will take me three weeks of preparation. If you want me to speak for thirty minutes, it will take me a week to prepare. If you want me to speak for an hour, I am ready now.

Winston Churchill

The AGM is brought to a close, with the majority of the public attendees taking the opportunity to leave at this point. For many of them this will be there only engagement with the Council, and I look forward to seeing them next year. I had prepared myself for a rant or two from the floor under ‘Any Other Business’, but nothing came. It seems a lot of effort to go to, to just turn up and say nothing; but that was the demorcratic choice this silent majority.

But wait – one character is staying on for the monthly Parish meeting that will commence in moments few. I will report on this in due course. The volume of notes I have accumulated from the subsequent 90 minutes will need a post or two over the coming weeks to really do it justice. We are truely off and running insidetheparish.

Conflicts of Interest

Another day, another form. In time for my first meeting I must formally declare any business interests of my family and I, so that they can be taken into consideration when it comes to particular Parish decisions and allocation of roles and responsibilities. This is fair enough, and a comforting level of rigour in how the Council is administered.

My professional and business interests are not a subject for this blog; but suffice to say that for this to represent a Conflict of Interest to Council business would require a significant devolution of power and/or a political crisis the like of which this country has never seen.

Nonetheless, my mind wanders. I picture a CEO of a playground infrastructure company strategically placing Councillors across target geographies. Biding his time to land lucrative refurbishment contracts or delivery of over-elaborate climbing frames. Readers of a certain age may recall an influx of plastic ‘Tree Man’ installations across parks and public leisure spaces in the mid 1980s. With a swing under one arm/branch, and a slide accessed via the trunk/mouth, were these part of some coordinated Parish level conspiracy? The wild look in the Tree Man’s eyes certainly suggested something wasn’t quite right.

A bit of web based research reveals that over £1Bn of public money is spent annually via the thousands of Parish Councils across the UK. It is reassuring that the checks and balances are in place to ensure this is spent legitimately and with full accountability.

I am confident that the minuscule slice of this budget now entrusted to my colleagues and I will be in safe hands. If any off-cuts of AstroTurf happen to find their way into a Councillor’s garden, I will ensure it is thoroughly investigated and dealt with swiftly.

D-Day

Just a short update: today it begins. I am now part of the Parish Council. Still six days to the first meeting, but my inbox is already filling with (directly copied) correspondence.

It is ruthlessly efficient, with each email marked ‘for information’ or ‘for action’. My first action is discharged straight away; confirming that I am unable to attend a pest control forum next Tuesday morning. A pan-District briefing, which covers a range of subjects all too tedious to cover in detail.

Of more interest; actions seem to be in place to get the newly elected District Councillor along to the next meeting. Toe-to-toe with my nemesis so soon; I will, of course, keep you posted.

Spring has sprung

With election fever behind us, the long weekend provides an opportunity to enjoy the spring weather. The sun is out, and there is a very British chill to the wind – perfect conditions for a village fete.

There are quite a few to choose from; but having not yet formally taken my post, I decide to go incognito at the Cider and Cheese Festival in the neighbouring Parish. The wife offers my services to the Dog Show that has a mixed bag of demonstrations, competitions judged by a second rate celebrity, and what appears to be a significant amount of lifting and carrying in order to set up and break down the arena and admin tent.

I find it is immensely satisfying to drive home stakes with a weighty mallet; securing them into the mother Earth ready to take the rope that will define the arena. It is slightly less satisfying to repeatedly remove them when you realise the dimensions of the arena and quantity of rope have been misjudged. After the fifth or sixth iteration, the novelty has resoundingly worn off, as has the quality of the workmanship. Nonetheless, the final result is fairly impressive, and I have a new found respect for those who install the temporary infrastructure that underpins such events.

Marquees, gazebos, pop-up food outlets, and the traditional mainstays such as the coconut shy; all hastily erected in the 1-hour setup window by reluctant volunteers. Just one slack guy rope or a poorly maintained gas canister, and the whole event could descend in utter, litigious chaos. Add in the more technically advanced elements such as the public address system, archaic fairground rides, and monumental inflatables; it truly is a wonder that these events pass so seamlessly across the country with (as far as I’ve seen) minimal glitches.

As the ‘Dog With the Waggiest Tail’ rosette is presented to a snotty child in an attempt to stop them crying, the cider (and to some extent the cheese) is starting to take its toll. I have already talked myself out of the dismantling activities, and from the condition of my support crew colleagues I assume the whole shooting match will wait until the morning.

At the back of my mind is a recent blind copied email from the Parish Council. There is talk of a summer fete, and it seems to be gaining some traction. I’ll need to check the small print and maybe take some legal advice, because in just a few months I may be ultimately responsible for an event such as this. A sobering thought indeed; which given the amount of cider I’ve consumed is strangely welcome.

Non-election day

As regular readers will be aware, today brings the non-event of the uncontested Parish Council election. However, Candidates of other Parishes and Districts will be going toe-to-toe in local elections across the UK. Those who subscribe to mainstream parties will be used as pawns in a media frenzy about ‘what would this mean if it were a General Election?’. SPOILER ALERT: it has been consistently shown over the years that it provides no insight whatsoever.

Due to the restrictions of the 1983 Representation of the People Act, I find myself walking a bit of a tightrope. I’m 99% sure it doesn’t apply to blogs (although web-based media is somewhat of a grey area); but under this Act it is illegal for media outlets (other than printed press) to report on UK elections whilst the polls are open, attempt to sway voters, or predict the results.

Due to the unerstandably small size of my following, and my predominantly international readership, I’m sure it is very unlikely that views expressed here could fundamentally undermine the democratic process – but why take the risk? Rather than leave my readers wanting, perhaps I could indulge them in party agnostic, vanilla, middle of the road tosh. However, should such content receive more likes and comments than the more standard posts (which to be honest would not be that difficult), I would need to take a long, hard look at myself, and consider the very future of the blog itself.

Instead, I will simply direct you to one of the greatest social media phenomena out there. So very British, so infrequent, but so absolutely wonderful. Ladies, gentlemen, netbots, I give you:

#dogsatpollingstations

Enjoy.

You can call him a carrot if it helps

Prejudices and ‘isms’ are typically bad things, although we all carry them to a greater or lesser extent. As well as considering them generally objectionable, I also find them lazy. I am, broadly speaking, an easy going kind of person, and try to see the best in people. However, when I do have cause to dislike somebody, I will at least take the effort to do so on a personal level.

One such case has presented itself over the last three years since moving to the village. I have struggled to choose a suitable word to describe this particular neighbour, and have settled on Moron as at least a working title. I understand this word is considered offensive in some circles, and I apologise to my readers if they find this word difficult. However, I find it accurate and justified in this instance, so please bear with me.

I believe that moron is the Welsh word for carrot, so you can call him a carrot if it helps.

The moron is an accountant. Now I have nothing against accountants per se (I have some good friends that are accountants), but for those of you that do, it sets a baseline to build upon. He is also one of those people that feels it is perfectly reasonable to open a conversation with, “so what are you driving at the moment?”. On this plain, although already irritating canvas, we can start to paint the portrait of the Moron.

He has an obsession with his front gate, and fencing in general. It’s one of those electronic affairs that can be operated with a fob, allowing the Moron to block the road as he sits smugly, waiting for it to open. Confrontations have been had with neighbours who have had the audacity to knock on the gate or attempt to operate it manually, rather than use the increasingly signposted intercom.

Communication is clearly a challenge for the Moron. Internal family comms seems to be primarily via raised voices and the kind of bad language that suggests a limited vocabulary. Increasingly rare external comms with neighbours are predominantly via theatrical threats and bullying retorts delivered over his new fence from the safety of the garden.

Based on recent exchanges with various dog walkers making use of the public footpath that flanks one side of the Moron’s property, the current direction of travel would suggest he will soon be communicating exclusively via the local constabulary. On three occasions in the last month the local bobby has attended to diffuse some sort of ‘crisis’ of the Moron’s creation. These typically result in a momentary growing up, and some sort of further fencing enhancement.

With minimal prompting, every neighbour will relay a story of some kind of negative exchange with the Moron; indeed I have a couple of my own. However, rather than throw stones and dwell in negativity, I ask myself what I can learn from the Moron and his baffling behaviour?

As I prepare to take office, I must confront the reality that I will at some level be serving and representing the Moron. Uncontested elections aside, the Parishioners choose their Councillors, not the other way around. As loathsome as I may find this individual, I will soon have a duty to assure his best interests are met. I envisage a future planing application for a moat and drawbridge to accompany his electronic gate. Do I trust myself to asses such a thing independently and without the emotional baggage of my personal dislike for the man?

I am ready for the challenge. At the risk of being self righteous, I know I can rise above the level at which the Moron chooses to operate. We are all entitled to our privacy and ‘funny ways’, and I will always react appropriately and robustly when met with objectionable behaviour. But when the Moron decides to step out from his increasingly lonely castle, he will find the pot holes are being attended to, a church clock keeping the correct time, and a play park for his children to use. I don’t expect any gratitude from the Moron, and I’m sure none will be expressed; but I have now clarified with myself that gratitude should not be my motivation either. I shall be motivated by making things better for the community in which I live, Morons included.

I’m going to keep an eye on the height of that fence though.