Issuu on Google+


EDITORIAL Infrastructure matters; not just the physical systems, road and power plants, but the ‘command’ infrastructure (see articles in this issue on transport, energy, local and national governance). Locally the Hastings ‘command’ — ten ‘gagging orders’ so far, against whistle-blowers and others — thus far, does not have the systems, nor perchance the political or moral will, to deal with inefficient local government officers at high level. Likewise, central government, which should have both the knowledge base and the access to expert advice to interpret it, for the transport and energy needs of those whom it governs. Yet still the road system is inadequate and there is no clear energy policy aimed at the delivery of energy 24/7 regardless of calm seas, still air or cloudy skies.

Graham Frost Publisher

Info Panel Publisher Graham Frost Editor-in-Chief Francisco Ferrer i Guardia Production Editor Bobby Cramp Illustrators Lesley Prince, Richard Warren Chris Watson Photographer Graham Frost Contributors Jan Goodey, Owen Johnson, Pauline Melville, Ted Newcomen, Steve Peak, James, Plaskett, Peter Roe, Chris Watson Advertising Bea Jarvis ✆ +44 — 07974457472

Published by Boulevard Books, 32 George St. Hastings TN34 3EA ✆ +44 (0)1424 436521 www.thehastingstrawler.co.uk editor@thehastingstrawler.co.uk Cover artwork The Spirit of Hastings 2006 Named after the Priory Meadow statue ‘The Spirit of Cricket’, satirised on the back cover as a ghost of poor town planning and missed opportunities. The front shows Hastings’ old Observer building threatened by greedy offshore developers. Chris Watson, an illustrator and designer working for national press, music and fashion, has lived in Hastings since 2002 © Chris-Watson chris@strega.demon.co.uk www.chris-watson.co.uk

Abbot Print, The Applestore, Workhouse Lane, Icklesham, East Sussex TN36 4BJ ✆ +44 (0)1424 815111 F +44 (0)1424 815222 @: sales@abbotprint.co.uk http://www.abbotprint.co.uk Annual subscription £30.00 (UK) £40.00 (airmail RoW) Except where indicated otherwise, the copyright in all articles, photographs and illustrations remains with the author, photographer or artist. © 2006 by Boulevard Books. All rights reserved. No portion of this publication may be photocopied, reproduced or retransmitted without prior written authorization from Boulevard Books.

Thought for the month: If you find mistakes in this publication, please remember they are there for a purpose. We publish something for everyone, and some people are always looking for mistakes!

IN THIS ISSUE March 2006, Vol II, Issue 3 ISSN 1745-3321

THE TALK OF THE OLD (AND NEW) TOWN A public arena for news, views, gossip and tittle-tattle about goings-on in Hastings, St Leonards-on-sea, and far beyond. 2-6 GOVERNANCE: Ted Newcomen look at the Russian business connections of Bexhill and Battle MP Greg Barker. 7-8 PROFILE: On the 60th anniversary of the death of John Logie Baird, the ‘father’ of TV, Ted Newcomen speaks to Angus Giorgi, the man behind the latest experiment in broadcast democracy www.tvhastings.org 9-10 ENVIRONMENT: Peter Roe considers the pros and cons of nuclear power and wind-farms on the wild and bleak landscape of Dungeness 12-13 THE TREES OF ALEXANDRA PARK: Owen Johnson 15-18 TREE GUIDE to Alexandra Park

19-20

BOOK REVIEWS: Trees

21-22

TRANSPORT: Steve Peak looks at the Toll Roads of Hastings 24-26 PEOPLE: Who wants to be (on) a millionaire? James Plaskett did... 27-29 FICTION: ‘Is this platform 4?’ by Pauline Melville 30-31 LETTERS: Your opinions matter!

32

APRIL ISSUE: The Da Vinci Con — the ‘Secret’ of Rennes-le-Château exposed; Election-rigging; Catherine and Tom Cookson — and much more...

www.tvhastings.org Hastings’ own (free) globallocal internet tv channel Serving the community — and local democracy

March ‘06 | THE HASTINGS TRAWLER

1


FORUM

THE

HASTINGS TRAWLER THE TALK OF THE OLD (AND NEW) TOWN Council Rates

BAND OF GOLD

T

he Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has recently announced that the scheduled rating revaluation for estimating Council Tax will not to be carried out. This routine updating arrangement is normally reviewed every fifteen years. The original system was worked on a valuation based on the 18th century window tax — two shillings for eight windows, which would be rather fun in metric! Why is there a such big discrepancy in the amount of tax paid by ratepayers in different local authority areas? For example, in Hastings, a onebedroom flat falls into Band-A — which is property up to the value of £40,000 (based on 1991 property values), this generates a bill for of £89334p in 2005/06. By contrast, in Westminster, a property in Band-A — which is also a property up to the value of £40,000, generates a bill of only £412. Similarly, in Hastings, a property with a tax value in excess of £320,000, that’s Band-H, pays £2,570 in rates. In Westminster a property within the same Band-H only pays £1,236. You have to ask would new (and extended?) Tax Bands and rates be adjusted to the same level as above — I doubt it. Who lives in Westminster Band-H? Just check out the flats in Admiralty House, Whitehall, Westminster on www.voa.gov.uk. The Deputy Prime Minister, has just been forced to cough up his back rates, 2

THE HASTINGS TRAWLER|March ‘06

and if the former Home Secretary is to be believed, he is not permitted to pay ‘rent’ on a grace and favour residence. So paying a low rate of council tax is still far less than market rent for such a palatial residence. Perhaps in the desolate wastes of Westminster they do not have the same high level of civic amenities as Hastings, or maybe their salaries just a lot less? Just as an aside, I wonder if Mr. Prescott’s flat has the 18th century Board of Admiralty table — the one with an arc cut out to accommodate the considerable girth of Admiral Benbow? Is it not time to completely scrap the council tax? And I don’t mean replacing it with the disastrous “Poll Tax” (Community Charge). This failed because the system of collection was based on property occupation as collated by Local Authorities geared up for rates. What chance has a council official got of finding and instantly collecting a flat rate tax off a 16-18 yearold mobile youth, whose income fluctuates from zero to £250 per week? What teenager is going to register on the electoral roll for a local tax and vote for politicians in whom he/she has less than no faith!. His/her wages are already taxed at source — so it makes sense to collect rates nationally. If Council Tax was collected by Inland Revenue and Customs it could be then distributed as per the Central Government Grants, as is the current Business Rate (this is presently collected locally, but remitted to Central Government in toto). The simple test for the viability of this

is to express national council tax collection against national income tax, expressed as an increase of ‘x’ pence in the pound. The savings involved would see the ‘mothballing’ of a section of the Valuation Agency and the closure of all Local Authority collecting agencies (W.S.Atkins for Hastings). In Hastings they are constantly having to change the bills, because of the continual fluctuation of Income Support offered to a large percentage of local residents. Some years ago this was in the order of £100 per Income Support claim. Of course there will always be void-rated periods for property refurbishment and vacated or


FORUM

untenable homes. As another aside, isn’t it odd that all the new departments and buildings created for the failed ‘Poll Tax’ were never closed to save money? Collection through the Inland Revenue means changing numbers on paper. The main argument used against this idea is that by paying local tax, ‘residents’ can influence local politicians by periodic voting for Party labels. I await the next joke! ‘Old Cynic’  Good governance

M.P.S – THEY WORK FOR US, RIGHT?

P

revious articles in the Hastings Trawler have generated quite a lot of excitement from local MP’s for a variety of reasons. This has stimulated us to start a regular feature that will be looking in much closer detail into what they are up to, both inside and outside the House of Commons. If you reall can’t wait for future instalments then we direct you to the website www.theyworkforyou.com We began details on which way they have voted recently and information from the Register of Members Interests. The latter included details of remunerated employment outside of Parliament, sponsorship, directorships, income from land & property, registrable shareholdings, gifts, benefits and hospitality, overseas visits, and other miscellaneous interests. Research by Peter Bradley reveals that among his fellow MPs, those with outside interests participate, on average, in only 65 per cent of Commons votes, whilst MPs with no other paid employment attend 91per cent. It has been estimated that some high profile MPs, such as ex-party leaders, former ministers, and shadow cabinet members, can make up to twenty times their parliamentary salary from their outside interests. Not bad when you consider an MP’s wage of over £59,095 alone is more than twice the national average. This is all quite legal and above board provided members register their

details according to the parliamentary code of conduct and comply with the rules laid down by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. The days of slipping brown paper envelopes stuffed full of cash to influence an MP hopefully died with the exposure of Neil Hamilton, government lobbyist Ian Greer, and their paymaster Mohammed al-Fayed. For anyone interested in that particular story, I recommend Sleaze — The Corruption of Parliament by D. Leigh and E. Vulliamy (Fourth Estate, ISBN 1-85702-694-2.) However, there are very valid arguments that MPs shouldn’t be allowed to moonlight at other jobs as the current system appears to legitimise the possibility of a series of conflicts of interests. It’s very curious how MPs have recently got highly exercised by the sight of George Galloway appearing on Big Brother for a couple of weeks but are curiously silent about the amount of time they spend working outside Parliament themselves. Future editions of the Trawler will be looking into this and other issues in some detail. TN  Department of moans

TIME FOR ACTION!

I

n the previous issue of the Hastings Trawler our local MP had a go at me for being so negative about Hastings and Britain in general. I am chastened

by his rebuke and am inspired to relate how this country is seen by some foreigners and a few simple steps we can all take to improve the situation. In my former life (or was it a nightmare?) I attended a talk given to a Sussex-based marketing group which promotes our particular corner of England to the world. The guest speaker was a Belgian tour operator responsible for bringing his countrymen to Britain. After lunch our visitor gave a very informative, not to say chillingly candid, assessment of how foreign tourists feel about holidaying in our country. These are his words, not mine. Apparently, we simply ‘do not provide good value for money, our hotels, restaurants and other services are overpriced. Our transport infrastructure is inadequate with choked roads, costly, irregular, and dirty trains. The London Underground feels positively unsafe. Food which is limited in range is prepared without care, and visitor attractions are just too expensive for the average family’. An unfavourable comparison was then made between a visit to Madame Tussaud’s in London and a trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower. After this onslaught of well-meaning criticism I felt like saying, ‘that’s nothing, you should bloody well try living here!’ But sadly there is a lot of truth in what our guest observed. Nowhere else in Europe or North America would consumers of public

March ‘06 | THE HASTINGS TRAWLER

3


FORUM

and private sector goods and services put up with the high cost and low standards that we seem to so readily accept in Britain. If there is a British disease it must be complacency, the attitude that this is the way it’s always been and there is nothing we can do about it — wrong! Sadly, our Belgian friend was preaching to the converted. The eighteen of us who had turned up for his talk were already well aware of the problem and were already trying to do something about it. It was the other members who hadn’t bothered to attend who perhaps needed to hear his message. Britain’s reputation with overseas tourists as representing poor value for money has been exacerbated in recent years by a series of other problems terrorist attacks, foot-and-mouth disease and before that BSE, also floods, train crashes, and very high fuel prices. All of which is bad news for towns like Hastings that rely heavily on tourism. An industry that nationally generates over £57 billion a year, or about 5 per cent of GDP, and employs nearly 7 per cent of the countries workforce (over five times as many people as the car industry), and creates one in five of all new jobs. With the expansion of the EU and the introduction of the Euro things are likely to get worse as continentals travel more between countries sharing the same currency and compare goods and services. They are even less likely to return to countries outside this financial system as the differentials between ourselves and the rest of Europe become more obvious. Our Belgian guest was of the opinion that any effort spent on trying to raise standards within the British tourism industry would never really be effective as long as citizens within our own country continued to accept low levels of service and poor value for money. Before my erstwhile critic from the 4

THE HASTINGS TRAWLER|March ‘06

House of Commons writes yet another letter complaining of my negative attitude and the rubbishing of our nation let me remind him that saying nothing is exactly what got us into this mess in the first place. If we are serious about improving the quality of experience for foreign tourists, and more importantly, the quality of our own citizen’s lives, we must cease being silently stoical and accepting low standards and high prices. We all need to stop moaning and start taking action! Complain directly to the rail regulator, make

appointments with our M.P.s., send letters to local and national papers, report useless local Councils to the Audit Commission, contact our failing NHS managers, education, and utility providers, speak out in restaurants and hotels that provide poor service, and return shoddy goods to suppliers. Silence is NOT golden — it’s a recipe for a second-rate nation. Somewhere at the back of my mind is a slogan that once belonged to the now defunct Countryside Agency, which went something like ‘a nice place to live is a nice place to visit’. It’s not such a bad motto for Hastings either! TN 

Mapping Hastings

WHENEVER I HEAR THAT WORD CULTURE...

D

o you ever feel culturally lost? Have you ever wondered where your local theatre, cinema or art gallery are? Well, of course, most of us know how to find the White Rock, Odeon or Stables, but Hastings Council officers don't, so they are handing large bundles of taxpayers £50 notes to some consultants — yes, them again — to draw a map. It’s ‘cultural mapping’ time, according to the Council's alwayslost-looking Mike Marsh, Director of Leisure and Cultural Development. ‘This project aims to both identify and enhance the role of culture and the arts in the life of Hastings and Bexhill, and to build an evidence base to inform policy and impact on the wider regeneration plans for the area.’ The surveyors will also be ‘undertaking a statistical analysis of the creative industries, both commercial and subsidised’, and will carry out an ‘audit of key cultural physical assets and resources’. Confused? What result will we see on the ground? If you are in the arts world and would like to be involved, try contacting the Brighton-based consultants Sussex Arts Marketing, on 01273 882112, or via their website.* They will be drawing the map, although they have been told by the elitist Mr Marsh to only survey the ‘key cultural providers’, so they may not be allowed to chart mere mortals. Tell them maps are a work of science, not art. ANN  *www.artsinsussex.com Energy Update

ONGOING POWER SUPPLY FIASCO

R

egular readers of the Hastings Trawler will be familiar with the fiasco involving local power supply companies Utilita and EDF Energy.


FORUM

To briefly recap, at the end of last year, gas and electricity supplier Utilita got itself into financial difficulties and tried to improve its cash-flow by sending out over-estimated bills followed by a demand for a set surcharge to be added to every domestic user’s account. These scams still failed to staunch the financial haemorrhaging and eventually the company was taken over by EDF Energy, who then jacked up their power prices so high that they no longer appeared to be competitive. Recent pleading letters from EDF Energy to their current customers claim that when they took over the Utilita client list they ‘were not aware that Utilita were intending to apply a final surcharge to your closing bill’. This suggests that either EDF went into this business with their eyes shut or they were lied to by Utilita’s management — either way it doesn’t bode well for consumers. Replies dated mid-January 2006 to Utilita customers who had previously complained about the surcharge appear to have no contact phone/fax numbers or business/e-mail addresses on the letterhead. Communications appear to come from a ‘virtual’ company with only the name Utilita in the top righthand corner, together with their ridiculous logo, which trumpets ‘do you get it’. Oh yes, we get it all right — Utilita are a bunch of cowboys!

Energywatch, the independent gas and electricity consumer watchdog, believes Utilita’s approach to be ‘unlawful’ and has reported the company to the industry regulator Ofgem. Investigations are continuing — watch this space! Past customers of Utilita who are still signed up with EDF and have made a formal complaint to Energywatch* about the surcharge can then obtain a form from EDF Energy to reclaim the full cost of that surcharge. It may all sound a bit complicated but could well be worth the effort. The Hastings Trawler encourages all energy users to go on-line to one of the consumer choice websites* and find out who is the cheapest gas and electricity supplier in their area. Let’s work together to put a nail in the coffin of any energy company with sharp business practices and shoddy service.TN  * Energywatch, 9th Flr Civic House, 156 Great Charles Street, Birmingham B3 3HN Tel. 0845-9060708 (local rate call) or * www.energywatch.org.uk * www.theenergyshop.com www.uswitch.com

Homes of the brave — and rich!

PROPERTY MADNESS COMES TO HASTINGS

L

ocal residents may be pleased to know that ‘property madness’ has finally reached Hastings. Some homes in the town have recently gone on the market, which are in the million pound bracket. I thought I would have to live to the age of about 120 to ever see that happen! At this rate of property inflation, by the end of the next decade, most of us will be able to sell up, move out, and buy a small developing Third World nation! I see a 5-bedroom, 2-bathroom Victorian-style home facing Alexander Park is currently on the market for a mere snip, at £975,000. But I’m reliably informed it has very nice wooden panelling inside. That seems like an awful lot of money for Hastings — but what

do I know? I’m the sort of ignorant pleb who actually prefers the décor before the likes of Lawrence LlewellenBowan gets to do the home makeover. A friend of mine tells me this house used to belong to a rock star in the 1980’s — Pete Knight of Steel Eye Span has been suggested — anyone out there know? Now that would make an interesting article for the Trawler: ‘Hastings Homes of the Recently Rich, Famous, or Infamous’. Any readers interested contributing such a piece should contact the editor. Another house for sale that I couldn’t quite believe, was ‘My Way Lodge’, for about a million and a quarter readies. Yes, you all know it, the big brick monster at the west end of The Ridge. That’s right, the one that looks like a Travelodge motel and confuses visitors to Hastings no end when they find the owner saying he hasn’t got any vacancies and besides they should probably ‘piss off, because this is private property’. I even tried dropping off my old Granny there once — I thought it was a day-care centre.TN 

March ‘06 | THE HASTINGS TRAWLER

5


FORUM

HENRY WARD, HASTINGS ARCHITECT

T

he old Observer building at 53 Cambridge Road, built in 1924, is currently threatened by demolition. Designed by distinguished local architect Henry Ward ARIBA, born in 1854, he built many large and important buildings in the South, such as the Hastings Town Hall, in Queens Road, 1881, as well as the Bexhill Town Hall in 1894, the Robertson Street Congregational Church, Several churches in Bexhill and Brightling, not to mention the wonderful tile murals in the Havelock Public House. The climax of his career was a series of grand neo-classical department stores for Plummer Roddis across the South. The Hastings store (now Debenhams) opened just after Ward’s death in 1927. CW  www.1066.net/henry_ward and Wikipedia. Planning

SAY NO TO CHEAP NASTY!

AND

A

new Hastings pressure group called S.T.O.M.P. (Stop the Observer Building Madness Please) has been formed to safeguard this important local building on Cambridge Road designed by Henry

Ward, which is threatened by demolition. The building planned to replace it is a half-baked design for a much larger budget hotel of the Holiday Inn Express type, aimed at the lowest end of the market and usually so ugly other towns only allow them to be built on the outskirts. Nor is there any thought for parking, local residents or the natural sandstone cliffs on site which might need to be blasted away with dynamite. The proposed new building is designed to provide the maximum profit for the developers — Landcorp (registered in the Isle of Man). Perhaps once demolition is approved by the planning board, Landcorp will choose not to build and quickly sell the site on for 100 per cent profit. this building has changed hands several times in the last few years, in an unfortunate goldrush style fever, its value doubling each time. The last sale price was £1.8m. Its madness that property speculators can get away with making huge profits on buying and selling conservation area buildings and yet avoid all responsibility for the upkeep of such buildings. Each time the site is bought and sold for a higher price the new owners profit margins are squeezed, and that is why our council planning board seem to be keen to flag through what is a cheap and poorly-designed overdevelopment.

Hastings has much to lose and little to gain from this ugly and oversized development. The image the new building promotes is that we are a cheap and nasty resort, ignorant of good architecture of the past and the present. We really are being cheated in a ‘new lamps for old’ deal. S.T.O.M.P. will be campaigning to stop this madness with petitions, a website and by writing letters to local councillors. CW 

For more info email putt.hutt@yahoo.co.uk or visit www.1066.net/henry_ward or www.stomp.uk.com/

Other buildings by Ward: Bexhill Town Hall, 1898; Congregational Church in Cambridge Road; Debenhams building, Hastings, formerly Plummer Roddis, Henry Ward designed a whole chain of department stores for this firm in the 1920s; Robertson Street Congregational Church 1874; Hastings Town Hall, Queen’s Road 1881; Hastings Observer Building, Cambridge Road 1914-24; St John’s Congregational Ch, Victoria Rd, Bexhill 1897; St. Stephen’s Church, Woodgate Pk Bexhill 1898; Buchanan Hospital — Elizabeth Mason Wing 1907; Brightling Mission Church 1909; Bexhill Town Hall 1894; Havelock Public House refit — Tile murals; buildings Aldershot / Guildford; Plummer Roddis stores except Bournemouth; Plummer Roddis, Hastings (Debenhams) 1927 (Opened 2 weeks after his death); Royal Victoria Hotel — St Leonards works on rear to become frontage Blundell Brothers — Luton; domestic houses www.1066.net/henry_ward

Left: old Observer Building, 1924. Right: mock-up to scale, 200? (oversized budget motel they want to put in the Observers’ place)

Plummer Roddis Dept. Store, 1927 (now Debenhams)

6

THE HASTINGS TRAWLER|March ‘06


GOVERNANCE

The Moscow EcoPark Project

from Bexhill to Moscow’s muscle market by Ted Newcomen

Greg Barker MP

L

ast month’s issue of The Hastings Trawler reviewed the outside employment, interests, and holdings of our three local MPs as recorded in the House of Commons Register of Members Interests. M.Ps. Waterson (Eastbourne) and Foster (Hastings and Rye) had very little to show outside of their official parliamentary duties. However, Greg Barker, Conservative Member for Bexhill and Battle, revealed considerable reserves of energy by supplementing his Commons’ salary of £59,095 p.a. with three remunerated directorships, benefits from two other companies, income from a lettings business and residential property, and shareholdings with about thirteen other businesses. According to information revealed under the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament, these shareholdings alone are probably worth in excess of £325,000. So you see, Mr. Barker is worth a bob or two — not that there is anything wrong with that, and by comparison with some of his fellow MPs his income from outside Parliament is small beer. According to the same register of member’s interests,

Ex-Tory Leader William Hague makes about twenty-times his MP’s salary for the 50-plus jobs he holds outside the House of Commons, which probably rakes in close to a million pounds a year. Mr. Barker has variously described his previous experience before going into Parliament as being an investment banker within the fields of business and corporate finance, including two years working in the oil industry in Russia, and time as director of a recruitment advertising agency. Since representing the constituency of Bexhill and Battle from 2001, Mr. Barker has retained three remunerated directorships: 1) Flare View Ltd, a property letting company, incorporated in February 2002; 2) Maybush Telecom Ltd, a distributor of mobile phone and related equipment, incorporated in September 2005; and 3) Haus Publishing Ltd, which specialises in biographies and travel books, and was incorporated in May 2001. During this period he was also retained as a consultant by Octopus Asset Management, experts in security broking and fund management. In October 2003, Mr. Barker

became director-designate of Spinel Holdings — described as having commercial and property interests in the Russian Federation. The firm failed to submit its accounts to Companies House in August 2005 and was dissolved the following month. Further enquiries by the Trawler revealed that Spinel Holdings was the client developer for an EcoPark Wholesale Distribution Centre in the Russian Federation. According to the January 2006 website of the scheme’s project management consultants, Davis Langdon, the architects were to be Mountford Piggott, and the project was valued at $200 million, with a start date some time back in 2005. We tried contacting the Communications Manager for Davis Langdon (one of Britain’s largest Quantity Surveying firms) by phone and e-mail to clarify the situation but her response was particularly uncommunicative — in journalese it’s what we call ‘stonewalling’. However, the Davis Langdon Russian webpage was changed almost immediately and project details for the EcoPark project were considerably altered, including removal of the name Spinel Holdings. Further enquiries hit a brick wall with the final statement of ‘no comment’. The last time we looked at the Davis Langdon website, the page for projects in the Russian Federation was no longer available (but we do have a copy). Instead of silence to our innocuous questions, the firm could easily have told us that their Moscow office closed in November last year, after only 18 months in operation. Apparently, they now maintain a presence in Russia

March ‘06 | THE HASTINGS TRAWLER

7


GOVERNANCE

through an alliance with a local firm called Ruperti Project Services International (RPSI). The firm’s secretiveness encouraged the Trawler to do a little more fishing and we subsequently caught some interesting testosterone-surged comments from Davis Langdon partner, Stephen Thomas. Printed in the February 2005 edition of Building Magazine, he said, ‘with business

booming, Moscow is a tempting prospect for British construction firms, but crime and security are big issues in a viciously competitive market’. He went on to add ‘It’s not a game for wimps... big construction in Moscow is a muscle market dominated by players with political connections, fast money, and armoured cars’. Certainly not the sort of people that the genteel constituents of Bexhill would expect their local MP to be getting mixed up with (innocently or otherwise). The Trawler asked Greg Barker MP for an interview but he declined, and appears to be as reluctant as Davis Langdon to provide any explanations. We then put the following questions to the Conservative Member for Bexhill-on-Sea 1) What is/was Mr.Barker’s role with Spinel Holdings Ltd? Why did the company fail to submit its annual returns to Companies House in August 2005 and why was it then wound up? 2) What is/was Mr. Barker’s relationship with the Davis Langdon group? 3) Who were Spinel Holdings Ltd’s partners in the Russian Federation? 4) Has Mr. Barker or any of his business colleagues ever had due diligence reports on their Russian partners? If so, when, where, and what was the outcome? 5) Did Mr. Barker hold any meetings which discussed proposed property developments or any other private business during his visit to the Russian Federation between 8-13 March 2004? 5) Does Mr.Barker wish to make a statement of any kind? On the 9th February 2006 we received the following reply from Mr. Barker:— I suspected given that you are not working for a reputable news organisation that this was an untoward request and your extraordinary questions confirm that.

8

THE HASTINGS TRAWLER|March ‘06

There is a very strict delineation between any business interests that I may hold and my Parliamentary duties. I greatly resent the totally unwarranted suggestion implicit in your questions that there has been anything unethical in respect of my business interests. I will certainly not be entering into any further correspondence with you. Please do not expect any further response.

O

utside earnings push MPs into the richest one per cent of the population, which means they inevitably associate with fellow company directors, professionals, consultants, and others. Such people who couldn’t be further away from the everyday experiences of their constituents if they tried. MPs frequently argue that by taking employment outside Parliament ‘it keeps them in touch with the real world, etc’. This is only believable if they were experiencing the drudgery of flipping burgers or working in a local Woollies store, but in reality they go for the more lucrative and prestigious jobs. Let’s face it, if there is one job in this country that should command a person’s undivided time and loyalties, it’s surely representing the people in Parliament.TN 


REGENERATION

An Eye on the New World — Hastings Internet TV by Ted Newcomen THIS YEAR

60TH LOGIE BAIRD, THE FATHER OF TELEVISION, WHICH HE DEVELOPED IN HASTINGS IN 1922-1923. ONCE AGAIN, HASTINGS IS IN THE FOREFRONT OF A NEW MEDIA DEVELOPMENT, INTERNET TV. TED NEWCOMEN SPOKE TO ANGUS GIORGI, THE MAN BEHIND THE WWW.TVHASTINGS.ORG PROJECT. IS THE

80TH

ANNIVERSARY OF THE BIRTH OF TELEVISION AND THE

OF THE DEATH OF ITS INVENTOR, JOHN

A

t the beginning of February this year I had one of those once in a lifetime ‘Eureka’ moments. You know, one of those unique occasions, as though someone had opened a window into another world or revealed a previously unknown dimension in space – and it happened right here in Hastings! Now before you think I’ve probably been popping too many ‘Es��� or sniffing on the glue-stick again — I’m actually talking about www.tvhastings.org — what Luddites like me would normally refer to as free global-local Internet television. This awakening happened in the town-centre studio of artist/ entrepreneur/technician Angus Giorgi, aged 41, and a one-man band at the cutting edge of whatever it is he does — and I still haven’t completely quite got my head around it. He will probably hate me for pigeonholing him with that ghastly expression, but he is certainly combining artistic creativity with business acumen and all that nerdy techno stuff. So what is free global-local Internet tv? Most people who are even slightly computer literate (I’m almost there) will understand the term Blogger — someone who keeps an updated textdiary on the world wide web that anyone can access for free. They provide an alternative to the established news channels — some like those in Iraq can provide a chilling reminder that what we hear from the mainstream media is totally sanitised and often misleading.

Internet tv is without text, it’s basically a video-blog, a relaxed (often behind-the-scenes) audiovisual presentation of information, news, films, sport, advertising, or whatever anyone wants to present. And that’s the shear beauty of it all — anyone, and I mean anyone, provided they have a room somewhere, the basic equipment, the technical knowhow, and innate creativity, will be able to do this for themselves.

Hastings’ new Logie Baird?: Angus Giorgi

BE AFRAID, VERY AFRAID!

I

f I were the likes of Tony Blair, Rupert Murdoch, or Ted Turner, I would be afraid right now, very afraid. Because when free global-local Internet tv really takes off in the next few years, the established mainstream media and its almost total control

over the mass of the population will just fly out of the window. It will do for them like the invention of the telephone did for message-carrying pigeons. But Angus Giorgi’s aims are clearly non-political. His original ideas come from working towards a project for his degree in Fine Arts. What he seeks is a free marketplace for writers, directors, and composers to come together to produce films — an open source on the world wide web for creative people who hold the copyright to their own creations. With the new generation of high resolution video cameras he envisages a day in the not-too-distant future when it will be possible to make a Hollywood quality feature film and distribute it on the Internet for a total cost of about £5,000. Angus is not funded by any government grant; he says arts grants come with too many strings attached. He’s developing a commercial model with non-invasive advertising. That means no ‘pop-ups’, and not forcing people to watch a commercial before they get to what they really want to see. At present, income is gained from Google ads on the side He says that the current standard 2 Meg broadband capacity will step up to 8 Meg within about eight months time, and within two years it could be up to 24 Meg. This will have massive implications for people who want to work from home, be they journalists, artists, writers, legal professionals, composers, whoever. This is all great news for Hastings as it will mean the existing drawback of having poor transport links will become increasingly irrelevant. The town’s natural advantages of being a seaside place with relatively cheap property prices for houses with large rooms will make Hastings a Mecca for creative people who want to work from home. London’s dominance in the fields of the creative arts, the media, and professional services will be broken once and for all.

March ‘06 | THE HASTINGS TRAWLER

9


REGENERATION?

IN JANUARY 2006, CONTRACTORS WORKING FOR HASTINGS BOROUGH COUNCIL BEGAN THE DEMOLITION OF THE 1930S BEACH CHALETS AT WEST MARINA. THE DECISION TO DEMOLISH THE 90 CONCRETE LANDMARK CHALETS WAS TAKEN UNANIMOUSLY BY HASTINGS COUNCIL ‘CABINET’, AT A COST OF £200,000, IN THE BELIEF THAT THE SITE WOULD BE SOLD TO SEA SPACE. IT WASN’T! THE CHALET RESTORATION ACTION GROUP (CRAG) IS CURRENTLY CHALLENGING THE LEGALITY OF THE COUNCIL’S DECISION TO DEMOLISH A HERITAGE BUILDING AGAINST THE WISHES OF A SUBSTANTIAL NUMBER OF LOCAL RESIDENTS.

ST LEONARDS — THEN...

ST LEONARDS — NOW...

Hastings and St Leonards Observer, Friday, January 27, 2006

Hastings Internet TV (Continued from overleaf )

We are about to see a seismic shift in the way people work and interact with one another. In the 21st Century, poverty of information is going to be more important than material poverty in determining which communities are successful and thrive. Hastings for once is in the vanguard with people like Angus Giorgi and efforts by SEEDA to make this town the first e-city on the south coast of England. We were lucky enough to be one of the original test areas for Broadband and the town has one of the highest takeup rates in the country. This is a good news story for our town, but free global-local Internet television can only really succeed in a 10

THE HASTINGS TRAWLER|March ‘06

St. Leonards-on-Sea Bathing Pool and Holiday Camp

free and open market. SEEDA should be applauded for its efforts in bringing Broadband to Hastings. However, Sea Space appears to have locked the new Media Centre into a deal with BT. Although this may be wellintentioned it is another example of how government thinking can serve to the detriment of the free market. Ultimately this must be superseded by advances in technology and calls for more democratic access. After all, why should public money be spent which only benefits BT and its partners, it should really benefit everyone.  www.tvhastings.org


ADVERTSEMENT

● Shoot & Edit ●

www.electricpalacecinema.com

ELECTRIC PALACE 39a High Street, Hastings, TN34 3ER

● Art House ● Classics Shoot & Edit ● 01424 720393 ● World Cinema ● Special Events ● March ‘06 | THE HASTINGS TRAWLER

11


ENVIRONMENT/ENERGY

When the wind blows... Peter Roe

N

owhere on earth are the controversies of the global energy debate so starkly highlighted as on the beautiful bleakness of Romney Marsh. At Dungeness, on Europe’s biggest shingle beach, a 40-year-old nuclear power station is being decommissioned. The radioactive heart of Dungeness ‘A’ will be carted off to Cumbria next year to become someone else’s problem. Meanwhile, on nearby Walland Marshes, the wind currently caressing the feathers of one of the world’s most important bird colonies will soon be powering a massive — and highly controversial — wind-farm. Add an internationally important Special Protection Area for birds, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a wild beauty unique outside Fenland, and Romney Marsh becomes a perfect microcosm of the global energy debate. If you stand by the A259 and look towards Little Cheyne Court where the new wind-farm will be, you can almost hear the voices on the biting wind: ‘Nuclear energy is efficient... windfarms are “green”... Not In My Back Yard... global warming... biomass.... wildlife...’ Which is right? Are the wind turbines really ‘green’? Shouldn’t we be concentrating on super-efficient nuclear power? And should a national nature 12

THE HASTINGS TRAWLER|March ‘06

resource and international wildlife landmark like Romney Marsh have to play host to either power source? Romney Marsh is roughly 100 square miles of farmland, swamp and shingle, grudgingly given up by the sea around 5,000 years ago. Perhaps ‘given up’ is putting it too strongly. Parts of the marshes are still below sea level, protected from flooding by a network of defensive walls. Between them, Nature and Man have created and maintained an extraordinary area of rich soil, abundant wildlife and unique, wild beauty. So unique that last year’s Public Inquiry into the German-owned NPower energy company’s plan to built a wind-farm at Little Cheyne Court brought a storm of protest from environmental groups. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, English Nature, Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, Sussex and Kent Wildlife Trusts all lined up against the plan. So did the Romney Marsh Group of Parish Councils and local Councils in both Kent and East Sussex. Their protests centered on both the destruction of a much-valued piece of vanishing countryside and on the potential damage to protected birds, animals and plants. The Little Cheyne windfarm is an immense undertaking. Twenty six

giant turbines will be built, each twice the height of Nelson’s Column, or about two-and-a-half times the height of Hastings’ Marine Court. They will stand on 100-foot-deep concrete footings — over 15,000 cubic metres of concrete in all. And they will be serviced by nearly seven miles of new roads built across virgin marshland, requiring over 50,000 tons of roadstone to be trucked in. By any standards the £50 million project will have a massive visual and physical impact on the unique Romney landscape. The windfarm will be visible for miles around. In fairness, not every one hates them. They do have a sort of beauty. A recent survey of people living around Cornwall’s Delabole wind-farm showed that 75 per cent of them rather liked the beasts, and felt they didn’t spoil the scenery. The impact on wildlife, though, is another matter. The RSPB was ‘disappointed’ by the Little Cheyne decision. Both it and English Nature support a move towards renewable, sustainable energy sources. But they say Little Cheyne is too close to the Dungeness-to-Pett Levels Special Protection Area. for wildfowl. There are fears that the turbines could kill birds heading for feeding grounds on the Marshes, or at the very least, drive them away. The internationally-important Bewick swan — weighing in at a cumbersome 8kg — is likely to have special difficulty avoiding the turbines once committed to its flight path. The RSPB plans to monitor the Little Cheyne birds closely to gather data for future wind-farm proposals. In the end, the plight of the swan, the visual impact and the loss of countryside, counted for nothing. Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks decided windfarms were an important part of an overall energy strategy and had to go somewhere. Little Cheyne Court was ‘it’. In fact, under the 1989 Electricity Act the Energy Minister can put wind-farms anywhere he likes. He


ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

doesn’t even have to visit proposed sites. Knowing that, many anti-Little Cheyne groups regarded the Public Inquiry with cynicism. Were they beaten before they started? Accepting that Little Cheyne Court wind-farm is a reality, the next question is how much will the towering turbines contribute to the national energy grid? Are they worth the massive investment and the sacrifice of precious open land? NPower claims the farm will produce between 52 and 78 megawatts of ‘pollution-free electricity — enough to power 75 per cent of homes in the Shepway area’. That’s 30,000 households, according to the most recent government census figures. To be clear — a megawatt is one million watts, enough to power 10,000 standard light bulbs. By comparison, the soon-to-bedismantled Dungeness ‘A’ power station produces 438 megawatts, on a footprint roughly one-fortieth of the size of the Little Cheyne windfarm. That’s enough to power the whole of south-east England — around 600, 000 homes — and not just when the wind blows. NPower also claims the turbines will ‘prevent the annual release of 130,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas contributing to global

warming.’ Critics, though, argue that the huge amounts of energy required to make, erect and service wind turbines makes nonsense of their status as a ‘green’ energy source. They point out that the concrete manufacturing industry is the largest source of industrial carbon dioxide production on the planet. Anti-wind-farmers also quote a surprise report by the German Energy Agency last year denouncing turbines as too expensive and inefficient. Germany, Npower’s home, has more wind turbines than any other country in the world — about 15,000 of them. But its Energy Agency believes carbon dioxide emission targets could be more cheaply met by filtering conventional power plants than by building wind-farms. Our own government says the German report doesn’t apply to us. Britain is the windiest country in Europe, and theoretically has three times more wind than we’d need to generate all our electricity needs. ‘The (German) report does not directly translate to UK circumstances’, said the Department of Trade and Industry. Of course, wind turbines only work when the wind blows — statistically just under half their working life. A

SWAN’S WAY” Little Cheyne Court. Site of the proposed wind-farm: a terrible beauty is born

conventional power station has to be ready to take up the slack on balmy days. Germany is not replacing its existing power stations with windturbines, and neither would the UK. So is nuclear power the answer? Dungeness also hosts the ‘B’ nuclear power station, one of the more modern gas-cooled reactors (the ‘A’ reactor is cooled by the sea). British Energy recently announced a 10-year extension to the reactor’s working life, guaranteeing its place on the skyline until 2018. The pro-nuclear lobby argues that the ‘B’-style reactor produces electricity for roughly half the cost of wind-farm-generated power. But wind-farm technology is improving, and the gap is diminishing. Nuclear power brings with it welldocumented disposal and long-term storage problems for the hazardous waste it produces. There are other technologies — the growing and burning of ‘biomass’ (fast-growing plants like willow), the production of biofuels from sugar beet, waveharnessing. But none are as far advanced as nuclear or wind sources, and without massive injections of government cash they are unlikely to be within the near future. Friends of the Earth have it right when they advocate a two-pronged approach to the energy problem — more investment in research into sustainable energy production and encouragement from the top to conserve the energy we use. But that’s not happening on nearly a large enough scale now. Until it does, wild, beautiful, relatively people-free places like the Romney Marshes will remain on the front line of the battle to satisfy the demands of a power-hungry society. Of course, if we get our energy policy wrong for whatever political reason, then decisions like closing Dungeness ‘A’ and building windfarms won’t matter. Global warming will happen, and Romney Marsh will return to the sea anyway...

March ‘06 | THE HASTINGS TRAWLER

13


Advertisements

14

THE HASTINGS TRAWLER|March ‘06


SPONSORED BY OLIO BOOKS

THE TREES OF ALEXANDRA PARK

Green Diamonds in a glimmering landscape Owen Johnson

A

lexandra Park would scarcely gain a mention in a history of the public park in Britain if it were not for its trees. For everyone, it is a pleasing place to walk or sit or play sports; for any tree enthusiast, it is also one of the best collections you can visit. The gardens came into being in the 1830s when a local businessman, Mr Shirley, landscaped the valley nearest the town centre to create ‘Shirley’s Pond’ in the area where the boating lake and duckponds are today. The grounds were taken over by the Borough Council in 1864 and opened as St Andrews Gardens. In 1878, the prestigious landscape architect Robert Marnock was commissioned to design a much larger park which would extend as far as Bohemia and

Silverhill; it was renamed Alexandra Park after the Princess of Wales who formally opened the new extension in June, 1882. Except for the addition of Thorpe’s Wood and Newgate Wood at one end, and Coronation Wood and Old Roar Ghyll at the other, this was the park we inherit today. Marnock’s plans show flowerbeds and lawns but do not indicate whether the trees were meant to form an arboretum in their own right. Counting the rings of rarities which have recently been lost shows that plantings were underway by the mid1890s, with groups of different oaks, hawthorns, limes, maples and beeches, an avenue of forms of holly and a pinetum. As late as the 1970s, three trees still had vintage lead labels,

though. as it happens, none of the labels were right. At least the emphasis on education, as well as leisure, will have been authentically Victorian. Most people are familiar with a few dozen reliable and ornamental trees. It would be very easy for anyone planting up a public park to confine themselves to these stalwarts (which are cheap and easy to obtain, and to replace once the vandals have taken their toll) and this is what often happens. But a glance at the Royal Horticultural Society’s The Plant Finder will show that there are literally thousands of trees which could be planted and which will very often grow just as well and look every bit as exciting, and not just for novelty’s sake. A park laid out with many different trees is not only visually stimulating, but can nurture an interest in trees, and in the environment in general. (I was lucky enough to grow up next to Alexandra Park, and it worked for me.) Planting 400 different kinds — about what the park contains today — is more costly, and more timeconsuming, than planting 400 trees of one kind. But after a few years the trees will more or less look after themselves and this is a much more economic way of creating a stunning landscape than mowing a lawn, building a bandstand, or cultivating beds of annuals. (In fact in the long term the 400 trees will actually be easier to look after than the 400

March ‘06 | THE HASTINGS TRAWLER

15


THE TREES OF ALEXANDRA PARK

SPONSORED BY OLIO BOOKS

TREES I THINK that I shall never see A poem lovely as a tree. A tree whose hungry mouth is prest Against the sweet earth's flowing breast; A tree that looks at God all day, And lifts her leafy arms to pray; A tree that may in summer wear A nest of robins in her hair; Upon whose bosom snow has lain; Who intimately lives with rain.

A21

Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree. Joyce Kilmer. 1886–1918

A21

h ec dr r Do

16

THE HASTINGS TRAWLER|March ‘06


SPONSORED BY OLIO BOOKS

THE TREES OF ALEXANDRA PARK

NATIVE TREES NEITHER MY father nor my mother knew the names of the trees where I was born what is that I asked and my father and mother did not hear they did not look where I pointed surfaces of furniture held the attention of their fingers and across the room they could watch walls they had forgotten where there were no questions no voices and no shade

Were there trees where they were children where I had not been I asked were there trees in those places where my father and mother were born and in that time did my father and mother see them and when they said yes it meant they did not remember What were they I asked what were they but both my father and my mother said they never knew -

— W.S. Merwin

ay W ht

Lower Park Road

St. He len ’s R oad

A21 Lo we r

Pa r

k

Ro a

d

March ‘06 | THE HASTINGS TRAWLER

17


THE TREES OF ALEXANDRA PARK

identical trees which will all tend to age and to need expensive tree-surgery at the same time.) It would have been easy for an interest in planting rarities to lapse once the 1890s arboretum was complete, and for a knowledge of what these trees were to fall away with the labels. We tend to over-estimate the likely lifespans of most ornamental trees and not many examples survive in the Park today from this first wave of plantings. After years travelling the country to assess and record the notable trees of our town parks and other places, I’m convinced that many Victorian arboriculturalists were more adventurous than we are inclined to assume: it is simply that their creations have dwindled with time, uncatalogued and unappreciated. In Hastings we were lucky: the enthusiasm lasted, and was passed from generation to generation. In 1935, Thorpe’s Wood below Amherst Road was planted with over 200 kinds of tree — 70 years on, ten survive, most of them very rare and one the biggest of its kind in the country. (This is one of ten ‘champion trees’ or national record-holders in the park.) Another golden age was in the 1960s, when Mr Cassidy, the superintendent, was clearly a plantsman of vision. (Most of the unusual shrub plantings were his, along with the White Campbell’s Magnolia in the garden of ‘Burnside’, the cottage next to the park where he lived and which now, after this species’ 18

THE HASTINGS TRAWLER|March ‘06

notoriously long adolescence, festoons itself with thousands of giant white blooms each March.) In 1987, the Great Storm blew down hundreds of trees in the park, including most of the pines in Marnock’s 1878 shelterbelts alongside St Helen’s Road. Few of the rarities, however, were damaged, and this was no ill wind since considerable government funds were now made available for new planting. The senior Arboricultural Officer at the time, John Tucker, was yet another rare trees enthusiast; his pet project was the restoration and extension of the original 1890s oak collection on the bank behind the pumping station. A healthy tree population is one which is added to in every decade. The Heritage Lottery-funded restoration of the last few years has brought much-needed renovation for the park’s

built features, but most of the tree planting has been of the worthy- butdull kind which projects of this kind seem to have spawned all over the country. In fact, several gems from Mr Cassidy’s era were ripped out by consultants and contractors who lacked the wit either to recognise them for what they were or to check with the local residents who knew. Growing up next to the park and slowly resolving the puzzles of weird new leaf-shape and blossom presented by one tree after another, I used to imagine that all over Britain there would be parks like this, crammed with just as many treasures. Today, having helped to amass fairly comprehensive records for trees in the public domain, I can state with some confidence that Alexandra Park boasts the widest range of rare, outstanding and ‘champion’ trees of any public garden in England. (It only remains for Cardiff to put us to shame. Several other English parks — Calderstones Park in Liverpool, Royal Victoria Park and the Botanical Gardens in Bath, Kensington Gardens or Brighton’s Stanmer Park — could usurp the crown in future, depending on planting trends in each place.) For people who like to do more than stand and marvel at the array of trees, there remains the challenge of identifying them for themselves. This challenge will be eased in 2006 as the Friends of Alexandra Park begin to fix labels to all the more important specimens.


THE TREES OF ALEXANDRA PARK

Tree Guide The ancient woodland of Old Roar Ghyll includes the tallest known Alder tree, growing near the stream 100 metres above the St Helen’s Rd bridge. Coronation Wood was planted by local schoolchildren in 1937 to mark George V’s accession. The oaks were grown from acorns collected from the veteran trees in Windsor Great Park. Short-leaved Yew, Taxus baccata ‘Adpressa’. Rare, and a ‘champion tree’. The half-length needles create an interesting foliage texture. The pinetum: look out for the three Stone Pines with their umbrella crowns (planted as recently as 1988) and the Bristlecone Pine near St Helen’s Road, one of the world’s longest-lived trees in Nevada, whose short needles are covered in flecks of white resin like dandruff. The oak collection: 22 varieties from around the world, very different in leaf shape but all carrying ‘acorns’. The largest tree, at the top of the bank, is a very handsome hybrid of Quercus canariensis from Algeria. It keeps its leaves into the new year, when they turn yellow. Fastigiate Birch, Betula pendula ‘Fastigiata’. A ‘champion tree’, probably over a hundred years old. Narrowly erect when young; old ones like this are curiosities rather than ornaments. Oak-leaved Alder, Alnus glutinosa f. incisa. A variant of the wild Alder with oak-like lobes around its leaves. Only three trees, all of them old, are known in Britain. This is the biggest. Next to it is an Italian Alder, with heart-shaped glossy leaves but similar ‘cones’. Thuja standishii. A rare Japanese cypress, the largest tree in a Victorian group of mixed cypresses on the bank behind the pumping station. The foliage is sweetly scented of wine-gums

and the bark peels in bright maroon and almost cerise strips. Beech collection: planted in the1890s with ornamental selections of the native Beech. Look out for purple-leaved, large-leaved, cut-leaved, ‘Fern-leaved’ and variegated forms. Holly Walk: variants of the wild Holly grown here include the Hedgehog Holly, which has spines over the top of its leaves as well as around the edges, and several hybrids with Madeira Holly. Also in the walk are Ilex crenata, a holly from Japan which looks like a Box tree, and Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Variegatus’, which looks just like a holly with cream-margined leaves but is actually a member of the Olive Family and has sweetly-scented flowers in autumn. Thuja plicata ‘Pyramidalis’. The narrowly spire-shaped cypress on the lower side of the cinder avenue. The tallest of its kind in Britain. (A second, across the stream from the hard tennis courts above Dordrecht Way, has the thickest trunk.) This tree was nearly killed by ring-barking by vandals in the 1970s, but has survived and repaired the damage.

Japanese Birch, Betula mandshurica var. japonica. The lower of two birches with very white barks and a survivor from the 1935 arboretum in Thorpe’s Wood. A ‘champion tree’. Dawyck Beech. The original example of this sport of the wild Beech with vertical branches was found in a wood at Dawyck in the Scottish Borders around 1850. This 1935 planting is probably the first to have been made outside private collections. Crataegus x grignonensis. A rare hybrid of a Mexican hawthorn, in the 1935 plantings, with big red fruit that last all through winter. Caucasian Elm, Zelkova carpinifolia. Not an elm at all but a member of a large-growing but little-known group of related trees. This is the big spreading tree (planted in 1935) with suckers all around it. Horned Maple, Acer diabolicum. A quietly attractive little maple from Japan, tucked among the seedling sycamores above the Caucasian Elm. The name derives from the devil-like horns on the fruit, which follow attractive purple flowers. Nikko Fir, Abies homolepis. From the mountains of southern Japan. Rare, but one of the few Silver Firs that will grow into a big healthy tree in urban pollution.

Swamp Cypress, Taxodium distichum. Three very big examples along the stream. The lowest is remarkable for its weeping habit.

Maidenhair Tree, Ginkgo biloba. A large old female tree, one of the biggest in Sussex. Females carry plum-like fruit which rot with an evil smell, so males are usually planted. The most archaic tree we can grow, and very rare in the wild.

Caucasian Wingnut, Pterocarya fraxinifolia, from the Walnut Family. The fruit look like strings of green wing-nuts. The plants here, spreading for 100m along the stream, are all suckers from one parent planting. ‘John Mitchell’ Whitebeam, in the steep shrubbery between the playground and Upper Park Road. Similar, if not identical, to a clone of a Himalayan whitebeam which is now often sold, and has huge round leaves with white backs; this old tree, however, is much bigger.

Tingiringi Gum, Eucalyptus pauciflora ssp. debeuzevillei. A rare Eucalyptus in Britain, but with a beautiful white bark peeling in spiral strips. Planted in 1974. Single-leaved Ash. A curious form of the wild Ash, with one big ragged leaf instead of nine to thirteen leaflets. This handsome tree was planted in 1981.

March ‘06 | THE HASTINGS TRAWLER

19


THE TREES OF ALEXANDRA PARK

Crataegus punctata. An American hawthorn, and the sole survivor from a group of Victorian thorn plants above Dordrecht Way on the Upper Park Road side. Very rare, but vigorous and long-lived, and remarkable for its tabular habit.

Sweet-gum, Liquidambar styraciflua. The autumn colour spectacle is unequalled and there are several young ones in the park. Mature trees, like the one at the path junction with its rugged bark and maple-like leaves, are scarce.

Buxus balearica. A species of Box from the Balearic isles, very rare in Britain. This bush by the Dordrecht Way entrance is one of the biggest known.

Pin Oak, Quercus palustris. A handsome American oak with deeplycut, shiny leaves. Tucked behind it, the small leaning Balkans Maple (Acer hyrcanum) is exceedingly rare and a survivor of various maples planted a hundred years ago along this bank.

Wild Pear. A huge old example of a native but very rare tree: the pears are small and round and scarcely edible even when they drop. This was probably a hedgerow plant subsequently incorporated in the park; it is another ‘champion’. Prunus ‘Shibayama’. The flowering cherry next to the wooden bridge by the bandstand is one of only a handful of examples known in Britain, and one of a huge array of forms bred over the centuries in Japan.

20

THE HASTINGS TRAWLER|March ‘06

Red Maple, Acer rubrum. A leading contributor to the Fall colours in New England, but disappointing in autumn here. Nevertheless the flowers in April are also red, and quietly beautiful. A pair survive from the old Maple collection here. Another survivor, in the shrubbery behind it, is the Corstorphine Plane, a form of Sycamore which is briefly bright yellow in spring.

American Lime. Next to the path at the top of the rise above the bowling green and another ‘champion tree’. It is conspicuously grafted at head-height onto Broad-leaved Lime. Other rarities in this clump of trees include red-flowering Buckeyes (Aesculus x hybrida) and a Chinese Sweet-gum (Liquidambar formosana). Silver Pendent Lime, another survivor of the Victorian limes in this part of the park (by the steps behind the playground). Also conspicuously grafted. The silver underleaves light up the weeping crown through summer. Indian Horse Chestnut. From the Himalayas and flowering much later than common Horse Chestnut. This is one of several handsome mature examples in the park. Owen Johnson


BOOK REVIEWS — TREES

Tree Books (Four, actually...)

My Journey with a Remarkable Tree, Ken Finn (ISBN: 1903070384), Eye Books, £9.99 AS A VARIATION on a theme — and there are a fair few tree books out there at the moment, including Colin Tudge’s excellent The Secret Life of Trees (see below) — Ken Finn’s odyssey takes us on a perilous trek through Cambodia to search out the fabled, great spirit trees of the remote north. As he comes upon them he gets caught up witnessing the systematic destruction of these ancient forests for what can only be described as shortlived as well as short-sighted economic gain. And so his journey turns from voyage to mission and we get to peer beneath the canopy into the undergrowth of the murky machinations of a global timber trade that is frightening as well as morally bankrupt. The serious nature of the subject matter is continually undercut with Ken’s mordant humour, the tangential anecdotes often spinning out of control — graphic depictions of a tummy-bug mushrooming into a scene from Alien, just one example that springs to stomach. The raw delivery may not make for literary fellowship, but it does bring relief to what is, overall, a pretty torrid tale.

Ken has lived in Brighton for seven years and the book and subsequent projects that have come off it keep him more than busy. Recently he’s been working with hundreds of school kids to help them understand what’s happening to the natural world via what he saw in Cambodia. And according to Ken: ‘The latest news from Cambodia is not good. Things have turned pretty nasty and my guide is in hiding from the logging heavies after serious harassment. It’s very worrying. The Cambodian government has expelled Global Witness, the organisation that has been monitoring logging in the country.’ JG 

Mythic Woods: World’s Most Remarkable Trees , Jonathan Roberts (ISBN: 0297843524), Weidenfield & Nicholson, £25 OPEN THIS BOOK at random and you’re likely to be reaching for the shades the shimmering vibrancy of some of the photos is singular — think of the heat waves you occasionally get coming off the tarmac on a particularly hot day and it is this kind of electricity you pick up from shots like A Wright’s mesmeric, aerial picture of the Black Wood of Rannoch. Author, Jonathan Roberts (who wrote the foreword to Ken Finn’s book, see above) has chosen 15 renowned woods to highlight, from the Brazilian Rainforest to Sherwood Forest. Although trees are central, the wildlife they foster also features, so we get streaks of danger in the UNESCO world heritage site of the Bangladesh Sundarbarns with its Royal Bengal Tigers. Or the deliciously arcane Water Monitors darting around of the mangrove forests in the same part of the world. Further east and Roberts takes us to the Tasmanian swamp gum forests, the last remaining habitat of the Tasmanian devil, now extinct on mainland Australia. Then there’s the surreal quality of Boabab trees which line the roads of Madagascar — these strangely tapered conical affairs with shocks of twiggy hair atop are almost like the mock plastic trees used to disguise mobile phone masts in this country. And closer to home we come across the Major Oak of Sherwood Forest with it’s green metal stanchions holding up strangely gnarled, knobbly limbs, hollowed by 1,000 years of life and home to bats, queen wasps and butterfly larvae. Roberts has travelled widely and worked for VSO Africa, before becoming a Scottish farmer, 20 years ago. The book’s foreword is by Thomas Packenham, he of TV’s Meetings with Remarkable Trees fame. Quoting Pliny

March ‘06 | THE HASTINGS TRAWLER

21


BOOK REVIEWS — TREES

on ‘groves and silences’ he rues on how silence in the forest is now hard to come by and how if global warming didn’t exist we’d need to invent it to put the fear into us to actually do something to save woods like these.JG  Collins Tree Guide of Britain and non-Mediterranean Europe, Owen Johnson and David More (ISBN: 0007139543), Collins, £40 IF YOU SPENT 20 years of your life in one discipline without a break you’d expect something pretty special to come from it and Owen Johnson’s labour of love doesn’t disappoint. He has classified more than 30,000 notable and rare trees in Britain, and when I say classify we’re talking detail here; for any one tree you get an outline of heights, age, leaf shape, cones, winter twigs, and bark patterns as well as succinct briefs on the tree’s history, its hardiness, and comparative qualities to similar species. So if you take the English Oak for example, you learn that it will indeed be a little piece of ‘forever England’ because it cannot cross with the Sessile Oak, which flowers two weeks later. Or take the Cilician Fir, which hails from southern Turkey and Syria and grows with the Cedars of Lebanon. This impressive specimen can now commonly be seen in the wilds of the home counties. The accompanying plates by David More are beautifully accurate and ideal for what Owen sees as the purpose for his book — a portable field companion — although you’ll need fairly sizeable pockets as this tome could quite easily break your coffee table. As a guide to trees in Britain, the book updates Alan Mitchell’s seminal A Field Guide to Trees of Britain and northern Europe published in 1974. Nowadays, people buy a greater variety of tree from the nurseries and garden centres, which countless gardening programmes have helped spawn and as such the need for an updated guide has been paramount. Owen is the Registrar at the British tree register and his previous books include 22

THE HASTINGS TRAWLER|March ‘06

Scallop time in Rye T

he scallop is in town, well in Rye Ingredients for 4 servings: actually. But for those of you 600 grammes scallops who want to eat the scallop right 120 grammes butter, where it’s caught, Hastings, rather 120 grammes minced onion, than have it ferried to Rye, here is a 2 tablespoons of crème fraiche quick recipe for the moon-white 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley. Lemon wedges and salt and scallop. pepper. Because its flavour is so delicate, the less it is treated or tarted up the Method: better, and it is important not to Melt the butter in a frying pan and sauté the minced onions for about 1 overcook it. minute till they are transparent. Wash and scarpe the shells well, and Add the scallop and cook quickly, open them by heating slightly on the shaking the pan so the scallops cook stove top. Remove the fringe from evenly for 2 minutes, but this timing around the central muscle. Put the will depend on their size, add the roe, known as the coral — it looks coral towards the end. Overcooking like a small pink tongue — to one will render them tough and rubbery. side. Or have the fishmonger do this Then add the crème fraiche and for you. Now wash and dry the sprinkle with parsley and serve with scallops, and salt and pepper them. the lemon wedges. 

Champion Trees of Britain and Ireland (2003) and Sussex Tree Book (1998). He is a naturalist and manages a local nature reserve near his home in St Leonards for the Sussex Wildlife Trust. David More has previously illustrated the Collins Gem Book of Trees. JG  The Secret Life of Trees, Colin Tudge (ISBN: 0713996986), Penguin, £20 UNLESS YOU’RE A pub quiz geek the odds on you knowing that there’s a Banyan tree in Calcutta as big as a football pitch are pretty remote. It’s the stories behind facts like these that Tudge unearths with delightful wit and dexterity. We hear all about Douglas Firs, taller than your average skyscraper and just as complicated in their makeup, then, closer to home, the historical and ancient trees of Shropshire, one in particular which provided a hidey-hole for King Charles who was on the run from Cromwell at the time. Tudge takes us across the globe and speaks to authorities on the Brazilian rainforest as well as experts serving up fascinating snippets of information from the Smithsonian Tropical Research

Institute in Panama. There are separate sections on What is a tree?; All trees in the world; The life of trees; and Trees and us. For me it’s this final chapter, bookended by a profile of the 2004 Nobel Peace prizewinner Wangari Maathai, that wins the day. Maathai, now in the Kenyan government, founded the Green Belt movement where women were quite simply encouraged to plant trees. It’s reckoned that 30m trees have been planted as a result. As Tudge puts it: ‘What is happening in Kenya could be reenacted in a thousand different forms all over the world. People could create a world that is good to live in.’ Schemes are already under way in India. Tudge’s own interest in trees began when he planted a tree nursery in his back garden aged just 11. He went on to study zoology at university and has been a senior writer for New Scientist as well a documentary maker for BBC radio. He is currently a full time writer and his previous books include Variety of Life and So Shall we Reap. He doesn’t have a favourite tree believing variety is the key to life. JG 


TRANSPORT

For Whom The Road Tolls... WHERE WILL THE NEW ROAD BE GOING — AND WHY WILL IT BE THERE? THE PLANNED BEXHILL-HASTINGS ‘LINK’ ROAD RAISES SERIOUS QUESTIONS AND STRONG

EMOTIONS,

JUST AS THE

BUILDING OF THE A21 AND BATTLE ROAD DID 170 YEARS AGO. STEVE PEAK MAPS THE STORY OF SOME OF THE TOWN’S MOST IMPORTANT HIGHWAYS.

T

he east-west roads through Hastings have never been good, especially with the A259 being the only connection with Bexhill. In the late 1960s the Hastings Chamber of Commerce had a dream of a south coast motorway, from Kent to Devon, going round the northern outskirts of the town. In the 1990s this idea re-emerged as a series of separate local by-passes along the south coast that could be linked, de facto, to form that motorway, in the same way the M25 came into being. Included were the two Hastings bypasses, the Eastern and Western. Officially, the pair’s main purpose was to improve traffic flow. In reality their priority was to open up the Combe Haven valley between Hastings and Bexhill for development, just like a motorway could. But then in 2001 the government rejected the two bypasses because there was not a ‘convincing regeneration case’ for them. They might create some new jobs, but they would cause unacceptable environmental damage and would do little to help the congested Bexhill Road, as most traffic using it was going into Hastings, not through it. With the government finally quashing a south coast motorway, the Hastings road promoters ditched the

Steve Peak

Eastern bypass, renamed the Western as the Bexhill-Hastings Link Road — and tried again. This time they made it clearer why they wanted the new road. In mid-2004 the Chamber of Commerce said ‘The lack of suitable development sites for quality premises has denied us the opportunity to attract inward investment,’ (ie, make money).

And their dream could soon come true. The Department for Transport gave provisional approval for the £47 million scheme in December 2004. In autumn 2006, East Sussex County Council will submit to itself a planning application, and compulsory purchase orders will be issued. Next, there is likely to be a public inquiry, the result of which has to be agreed by the government (this is where the bypasses came unstuck). If it survives that hurdle, work could start on the new road in 2008 and finish in 2010. But who are the road pushers, and why are they doing it? Historically, they are from the same background as Cripps’ Corner

John’s Cross

Whatlington

Sedlescombe

A21 Battle

Beauport Park

Battle Road

The Ridge Ore

Hallington Silverhill

Maze Hill Hastings London Road

St. Leonards The roads through the woods: Hastings Toll Roads — 1850s March ‘06 | THE HASTINGS TRAWLER

23


TRANSPORT

the people who forced through the major roads of the 1830s: the local establishment, with friends and influence in the right places. Then they were the well-known local gentry, landowners, traders and shopkeepers; today they are less conspicuous on the streets — except they all wear the label ‘Regeneration’. Regeneration is development by a more acceptable name. Such schemes are made attractive with crossfingered promises of more jobs, better bus services and country parks, but their main purpose is to make profits from hitherto unproductive sources — in this case, the Combe Haven valley. The 3.4 miles long link road between Sidley and Queensway, just north of the Crowhurst junction, will make this large area of land accessible to developers for the first time. The initial development will be in the farmland on the north-east fringe of Bexhill. Large housing and industrial estates, a school, access roads and a community centre will be built. Much of the land directly between here and the west edge of St Leonards is an SSSI, whose significance the developers have at last acknowledged, and it will be left untouched. As for the farmland to the north opened up by the link road, no development schemes have yet emerged, but in a few years … The county council has promoted the idea of the link road by saying ‘congestion would be cut’ on Bexhill Road. But the recent expansion of the Glyne Gap shopping centre and the increased number of people who will live and work around the link road, plus ever-growing traffic nationally, will probably cancel out any benefits for Bexhill Road residents and users. Local MEP Caroline Lucas has called the link road ‘a microcosm of a discredited policy’. She believes that ‘by opening up a swathe of countryside for business parks and new housing development the proposed road would effectively merge the two towns into one’. 24

THE HASTINGS TRAWLER|March ‘06

While we await the arrival of the bulldozers, it is interesting to look back at the way some of the most important roads in the Hastings area were also built for business reasons — but businesses in conflict with each other, so they built separate, conflicting roads! If the local establishment had not been split down the middle for a few years just as Victoria came to the throne, the A21 could today be running through the middle of Battle.

HIGHWAYS AND BUYWAYS

H

astings and St Leonards should be in the history books of British transport. More than 130 years of the building of the controversial turnpike roads came to an end here in the late 1830s. Then, as the new railways began to take traffic away from the roads, Parliament passed its last turnpike Acts. These authorised the building of a network of roads in the Hastings area, including the A21 from St Leonards to Whatlington, and the construction of the rival Battle Road through Hollington. For many centuries until the early 1830s there were only two ways in and out of Hastings for long-distance travellers: by sea, or by ‘the London road’. This highway started at the top of the High Street, went up what is now called Old London Road and joined the ancient trackway (the Ridge) that went inland to the northwest, following the contour lines to stay above the deep, wooded valleys of the Weald. That trackway still exists today, first as the Ridge, then becoming the A2100 into Battle, where it turns off the High Street as Mount Street, running north-east through the hamlet of Whatlington. From the Whatlington turn-off, the trackway follows the A21 through John’s Cross to Robertsbridge and on to Flimwell. The A21 south of Whatlington through to Silverhill did not then

exist, and neither did today’s Battle Road in Hollington, or the A2100 Battle-John’s Cross. By the early 1700s the rapid growth of industry and commerce across Britain meant that all through roads like that from London to Hastings were being much more heavily used. But the roads had also become almost impassable in winter, being full of mud and ruts because of the increased use by heavy-wheeled vehicles. Maintenance was poor because the legal responsibility for it fell on the shoulders of local parishes, who saw the system as unfair — why should local landowners subsidise passing businessmen and traders? The urgent need for roads to be improved led to the creation of the turnpike system. From 1706 the government allowed landowners and other professional people to form turnpike ‘trusts’, by paying for their own Acts of Parliament. The trusts were non-profitmaking corporate bodies which, for a set time, could take over an existing road or build a new one. The law stated that trustees had to be owners of a significant amount of property. This meant they were often landowners who had a strong selfinterest in turning their adjoining road into a turnpike, because it could increase the value of their property and generate more trade for them, while they would no longer have to pay for its upkeep. They also often made money by loaning the trusts large sums for capital works, which were repaid with a higher than usual interest rate. But by turning roads into turnpikes the trustees were privatising public highways, where previously there had been unrestricted rights of way. A toll was levied on road users to pay for the routine maintenance. Everyone had to pass through tollgates, placed at regular intervals, with tollhouses standing alongside, where lived the gatekeeper who would extract the money from them.


TRANSPORT

Pedestrians and local farm traffic were exempt. In 1753 many prominent Hastings figures — including Edward Milward and John Collier — obtained an Act that allowed them to take control of the existing Hastings-London trackway as far north as Flimwell. Work on the Hastings-Flimwell turnpike began at the Hastings end. The first tollgate was put up in June 1753 at the top of what was then called Hastings Hill (Old London Road, where it meets Mount Road and Priory Road). The road took three years to complete, and another nine gates were installed through to Flimwell, with the next one on the south side of Battle. The HastingsFlimwell turnpike Act was renewed in 1779, 1801, 1821 and 1849. In 1814/5 the trustees spent a large sum on improving Hastings Hill, then one of the most difficult parts of the whole turnpike. Nearly a mile of the Ridge at Beauport was re-laid as a new road in 1824/5. The Hastings-Flimwell turnpike reached its high point in the early 1830s, with the mushrooming town of Hastings generating much traffic, including daily London stagecoaches. But in the late 1830s its income began declining following the construction of a new rival turnpike road that ran from St Leonards to Whatlington via the Harrow — today’s A21. These last eight miles of the A21 were the child of the new town of St Leonards. Fashionable London architect James Burton had started building St Leonards in 1828, but it quickly became clear that the long travel time from London was deterring lodgers and house buyers. They had to first reach Hastings, then go up the steep narrow track onto the White Rock headland and down the other side before arriving in St Leonards. Burton saw an obvious solution: create a new London road from St Leonards, going through Silverhill

and the Harrow, and bypassing Battle. The White Rock was removed in 1834/5, allowing the two town’s to be linked with a seafront, but this was not enough for Burton. He was backed by many landowners between the Harrow and Whatlington who stood to benefit greatly from this new link north and south. Also popular was the branch road that was to run through Sedlescombe to Cripps Corner, giving access to towns and traders in north Kent. But this St Leonards-based scheme was strongly opposed by the many Hastings-Flimwell trustees who owned land, shops and businesses in and around Battle. They believed the St Leonards turnpike would deprive them of valuable passing trade. So they set up a new trust that would shorten the Hastings-Flimwell road by making a link from Hastings town centre via Hollington to Beauport Park, cutting out Old London Road and the Ridge. The battle over Battle commenced in late 1835. Rival plans were drawn up and lively arguments took place, although these were somewhat clouded because a considerable number of people were hedging their bets by supporting both schemes. It was soon recognised that two turnpikes competing for the same travellers could both be financial failures, so a compromise was discussed. On 27 January 1836 a meeting took place at Beauport Park, home of Sir Charles Lamb, which could have changed today’s road maps. Senior figures from all three trusts — including James Burton of St Leonards — agreed a compromise: the A21 idea should be dropped and the route through Battle upgraded. For trustees based in the town of St Leonards, there was little difference between the routes. But when the St Leonards trust met the next day they were told the compromise was

unacceptable to their most powerful members, the rural landowners — especially Sedlescombe’s Hercules Sharpe — who would lose from it. So the St Leonards trust went ahead as originally planned, and today’s A21 was born as a result of a few people’s business interests. Both schemes needed Parliamentary approval, which was given in 1836. The HastingsHollington trust spent the next two years on widening and flattening Cambridge Road and Bohemia Road, as we know them today, taking traffic to Silverhill. Here the new Battle Road was cut and laid motorway-like through the heart of the rural village of Hollington, to connect with the existing turnpike road at Beauport Park. All this cost over £12,000, which had to be borrowed, as was another £14,500 which paid for the new, almost dead-straight London Road linking Battle and John’s Cross, today part of the A2100. At the same time the St Leonards trust built two new turnpike roads in St Leonards that met at Silverhill. These were London Road, from the seafront, and Maze Hill/ Sedlescombe Road South, from St Leonards Gardens. At Silverhill the two joined to form Sedlescombe Road North, which followed some of the old Harrow Lane and then became a new road to Whatlington, including a bridge under the Ridge. All these new roads opened in 1838. And all turned out to be much more expensive than hoped, with landowners demanding large amounts for land included in the roads. The St Leonards-Whatlington road was seriously delayed by a local dignitary (and Battle supporter) Sir Godfrey Webster who refused to sell the trustees a small piece of ground they needed. There was further conflict when unhappy mortgagees seized some of the tollgates on the Hastings-Flimwell road and retained possession for several years while they obtained a direct return from tolls. March ‘06 | THE HASTINGS TRAWLER

25


TRANSPORT

Roads (continued from page 25) The many turnpikes in and around the borough were very unpopular with the public, as each of them had at least one tollgate, making travelling expensive — five tolls had to be paid between Battle and St Leonards promenade. Both the London turnpikes were financial disasters. They — like all Britain’s turnpikes — were killed by the building of the railway network in the 1840s and ‘50s. The St Leonards-Whatlington trustees saw the danger coming and in 1841 they obtained from Parliament the last of the turnpike Acts. They had already built a branch road through Sedlescombe to Cripps Corner, which opened in 1839, and the 1841 Act allowed them to extend this to Hawkhurst, from where travellers could reach what was then the nearest railway station, Staplehurst, on the London-Dover line. Sir Charles Lamb was the main funder of the 26

THE HASTINGS TRAWLER|March ‘06

PHOTO GALLERY

Sedlescombe-Hawkhurst road. The Cripps Corner-Hawkhurst section opened in 1843, but three years later the railways reached west St Leonards, fatally wounding all the turnpike roads in and around Hastings and St Leonards. From 1852 all three railway lines from Hastings — to Brighton, Ashford and Tunbridge Wells — were in operation, and passengers could reach London in just over two hours, a third of the stagecoach time. From then on the turnpike roads were both financial losers and public nuisances. The gates and tollmen stayed in place, but road-users saw little return on the cash they paid. At the end of 1867, when Hollington road was on its death-bed, its accounts showed that in the 31 years it had been in existence over a third of its spending was in paying interest on its borrowings. From 1865 many local people and organisations campaigned to have the turnpike trusts abolished, and this

came to fruition in 1875 with the removal of all the gates in the borough. The Hastings-Flimwell trust was officially wound up in 1880 and the last of the gates, on some inland rural roads, were scrapped. From 1880 travellers could go from Hastings to London free on the roads.

DRIVING LESSONS

S

o the moral of this story is: — You need to know more about roads than their signs say. The main road running through Hollington was not built to boost the village, but to fund the businesses of Battle. The southern end of the A21 was not created as an access road for Sainsbury, but to keep some country landowners well in pocket. And the Bexhill-Hastings link is to help local speculators, not the Bexhill Road residents suffering from noise and air pollution.


PEOPLE

‘Who Wants To Be [On] A Millionaire?’

James Plaskett IN NOVEMBER 2005 FORMER HASTINGS RESIDENT, JAMES PLASKETT, A CHESS GRANDMASTER AND BRITISH CHESS CHAMPION (1990), MARRIED TO LOCAL POET, FIONA PITT-KETHLEY, WON £250,000 ON WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE. HE EXPLAINS TO THE TRAWLER SOME OF THE PROBLEMS HE HAD TO SURMOUNT OVER THE SIX YEARS

— AND BEYOND — THE FASTEST FINGER FIRST STAGE. HE TRIED TO GET UP TO

I

first tried to get on to the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? show in 1999. My first hit got me on, but I got the first two Fastest Finger First trials wrong, and the third FFF, which was ‘Starting at the fingertips, put these parts of the arm in the sequence’, saw me, indeed, get Knuckle, Wrist, Elbow and Shoulder in sequence... but a) a policeman did it faster, and b) there was a fault with several of the consoles, including mine, and so my effort did not even register as one of the accurate ones. Long after I was still receiving helpful comments about not being able to tell my arse from my elbow. My appearance tied in with one of the cutest coincidences I ever experienced. The show had then been going for 13 months, and in the USA,

which I believe was the first country beyond the UK to run its own version for less than ten weeks. I was notified by phone of my qualification only the night before, and so had to contact an Internet Chess Club pupil, ´Aletheaa´ to explain why the following evening´s lesson would have to be postponed She responded that that was a bummer, for her only other on-line chess teacher was also appearing on the newly-launched US version of the show. I said that I was being serious. She replied that so was she. Kelly Cottrell of Illinois (now married to International Master Ben Feingold) was a beginner and also used the chess.net site where she was being given free instruction by ´wizofov´. That was the handle of a retired computer programmer from Kansas: Av Rosen. Although by then probably less than a thousand competitors globally had ever made it to the studio stage, it transpired that when I appeared in London on a show recorded on November 12th 1999, so did her only other teacher, in New York. He also won no money. I made another tranche of calls in late 2000... and made it through the qualifying procedure to the last 100...

and then to the ten contestants who would play in the studio. (My exEngland chess teammate, Grandmaster Nigel Short, once told me that his Greek wife reached the last 100 in Athens, but no further.) However, again I failed the two FFF heats.Then saw a gap of four years, for the failures had left me dispirited... and less well off. I veered back towards the show in late 2003, when Major Charles Ingram was convicted of an insurance impropriety. I feared that this might activate a suspended sentence which he had been given in April 2003 in London for getting to the Million Pound top prize through being signalled by placed coughs from the audience. I was unconvinced, and sent letters of support to his solicitors and Bob Woffinden, a journalist interested in miscarriages of British Justice. A Google search re Ingram led me to a website on quizzing, where I chipped in my views. Eventually somebody there asked why I myself did not try to get into the hot seat. So I did. * www.portia.org/chapter14/major.html

March ‘06 | THE HASTINGS TRAWLER

27


PEOPLE

Another attempt in November 2004 got me on to the show. For almost a year already I had had an essay criticising the show´s makers, Celador, visible at a site devoted to miscarriages of justice and so was not certain how I would be greeted when marching into the enemy camp. But they treated me no differently from anybody else. I failed the only FFF heat. I live in Spain, but entries may only be made from within the UK. So on my next visit, in January 2005, I made some more internet entries. To my dismay, after just 65, I was unable to use my credit cards further as the issuers had put a stop on them all due to frequent and unusual usage. I shrugged, and was preparing to leave the country when my mobile went off and it was the show calling to tell me that their computer had again placed me through to the last 50! I had ten seconds to answer this question: ‘According to the Census of 2001, how many residents of the London Borough of Harringey were born in Northern Ireland?’ ‘1192?’, I ventured. Within the hour they rang back to tell me that that guess made me one of the ten closest, and so I rearranged my flight and appeared on the show. Same show, different day... (sigh...). On September 16th 2005 I chatted for 4 hours with Charles and Diana Ingram at their home. Diana mentioned that when they had travelled up to London in 2004 to appeal to their trial Judge(successfully in her case) against the punitive level of costs and damages, they had paused for refreshment at Waterloo Station. One of the policemen leading the investigation against them, Detective Chris White, walked by, spotted her... and came over to inquire how they were getting on! While I was with them, Celador rang a contact number I had left to say that I was through to the last 50 for a show to be recorded on September 19th and that they would call me again the next day. I took that call, but my guessed answer was bad, and I only qualified 28

THE HASTINGS TRAWLER|March ‘06

as second reserve. I tried again while at a chess meet in Birmingham in November 2005, and as I was queuing to pay my bill at the Paragon hotel on the morning of November 20th, my mobile went off. My guess was better, and several hours later they rang back to say that I had qualified. On all previous appearances throughout my day at the studio I had frantically studied quiz books. But this time I thought I´d just try to relax. So I asked Guildford ADC chess teammate, Grandmaster Stuart Conquest, to accompany me as my guest. His principle role was to supply set, board and a clock and, most importantly, a convivial opponent with whom I could blitz in my dressing room! I won the second FFF trial of the night and so, over six years after first entering the competition, qualified to play. (Guildford ADC chess teammate, Grandmaster Antoinetta Stefanova, told me that in her native Bulgaria her sister had qualified to play, having made just three calls. She went with her to the studio as her guest, and felt the awful tension as she failed all the FFF heats.) A momentary lull occurred as host Chris Tarrant and I stood offstage prior to walking to our seats. He extended his hand. ‘James.’ I strode over and shook the hand of the man whom I had so long and so openly criticised for helping to propagate the validity of the conviction of three innocent people. His eyes held a mixture of curiosity, professional detachment... and apprehension. I got the £4,000 question right... after 24 minutes deliberation. I halfremembered having glimpsed in a Spanish magazine a snippet about Julia Roberts having had twins in 2004, but I was very anxious not to use any lifeline unless I felt it essential. The £8,000 question was — ‘The standing stones of Avebury are in which county?’ Bob Woffinden had pointed these out to me on as we drove back from visiting Charles and Diana Ingram at their home in the Wiltshire village of

Easterton. I told Tarrant, that this was how I was able to give the correct answer. We only went past the stones through a misdirection on my part. The recording ended, and I was to return the following day to face the £16,000 question. When play resumed I found study I had done some months earlier payed off, for it enabled me to tell him that a female ferret is called a ‘gill’. The £32,000 question was — ‘The 2004 Biopic De-Lovely was based on the life of which composer?’ I knew the answer was Cole Porter as I had seen Jonathan Ross reviewing the film on TV at the time of its release. The title Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? is from a Cole Porter song. But, ironically, the lyric continues, ‘I don´t, ´cos all I want is you.’ It´s about a man singing that he does not wish for that status. Later in the game, Tarrant asked me on what I would spend a million, and I deferred, saying only ‘Well, I am giving 10 per cent of what I win to charity.’ On January 16th 2006 I dined with Woffinden at a London restaurant. I noticed a discarded programme for the show High Society, which was apparently on at the nearby Shaftesbury Theatre. I opened it, thinking that this Cole Porter musical might contain the very song Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? It does. The £64,000 Question was ‘To whom did Agatha Christie dedicate her novel The Mirror Crack´d From Side to Side? I had seen the film of this book in 1981. My wife had acted as an extra in it. On November 9th 2005, Fiona had read out her poem The Mirror Crack´d to a meeting of the Torrievieja writer´s circle, when she had also mentioned her appearing in the film. I got it right, and then also the one for £125,000 — ‘Who was the mother of Charles the Second and James the Second?’ In each case I eliminated options until I felt it possible to make a rational selection from the remainder. As a consequence, I reached the £250,000


PEOPLE

question with all three lifelines still intact. I now sensed a growing respect from Tarrant. I had worked at home with DVDs which simulate the show format and even use his voice, and these had served as excellent training tools. It was clear he appreciated that the only explanation there could be for a man witholding all lifelines until that point, despite his being unsure on some questions, was that he was aiming at the million. The £250,000 question was ‘Crispin is the patron saint of which craftsmen?’. It is testimony to my lack of homework that I was clueless. I had contemplated the ultimate coup de theatre by having Tarrant phone Charles Ingram. But I reasoned that he might not be the best to consult on this type of question. And, also, Celador retain the right to veto a Phone-A-Friend if they deem them unacceptable. So I phoned my wife, who gave the correct answer but said she was not certain and so recommended using another lifeline. I took 50/50 and that left the options of Shoemakers or Clockmakers. As I had ridiculed Clockmakers as a possibility, Conquest now laughed out loud. He was hastily escorted out of the studio. It is obviously wrong to play for these sums in front of an audience. Any noises off may be signals, and one is placed in a state of jeopardy if the guest has had baked beans in the canteen. Hereabouts my nerve failed me. I started giggling and, for no good reason, spunked the third lifeline. The correct policy, of course, was just to have played. The audience voted 62 per cent for Shoemakers, so I went for it. Tarrant announced a break, which lasted a full eight minutes, and then revealed that I had guessed correctly. The £500,000 question was ‘Which of these astronauts has not walked on the moon?’ The options were a) James Lovell b) Ed Mitchell c) James Irwin d) Charles Duke. I declined to answer. The correct answer was the

commander of the abortive Apollo 13 mission; Jim Lovell. There had been a dummy close of the show at rehearsal, either at my appearance in Nov 2004 or in Jan 2005, where Producer David Briggs read out, ‘Earlier tonight, James Plaskett won £250,000 ...’ About six weeks before the show I had decided to watch a video, and selected one I had never watched before; Apollo 13. But I could not get it to play properly, and despite fast forwarding and rewinding and trying to adjust the tracking, I could not overcome my technophobia. The previous year my son and I had taken to hiding the video control, and neither of us had consequently been able to locate it for ages. I was alone, and without my wife´s expertise I just gave up and watched something else. Had the video played then there is simply no way that I could have failed to identify Lovell as the correct answer. Also, in 1996, Fiona had, quite uncharacteristically, purchased a paperback book; James Lovell´s account of his own troubled mission; Apollo 13. She had recommended it to me, saying that she was moved to buy it through a quote of an astronaut who said how poetic and moving it was to see the earth from space. She emphasised how impressed she was by the sheer flying skills which the book revealed had been necessary to bring the stricken spacecraft home. I had leafed through a few pages, but then decided it was not for me. Such is life. In conversation earlier in 2005 with Bob Woffinden, I happened to mention that I would give a million pounds for the experience of walking on the moon. It also worked out that a special celebrity couples edition of the TV quiz The Weakest Link, featuring Charles and Diana Ingram, was broadcast on British TV earlier the same evening that the first part of my performance aired; January 14th, even though it, like my show, had been recorded in November

2005. At the recording they were told that transmission should be on 17th Dec. All other editions of the show were broadcast in sequence. Finally, circa 12:30 on January 24th 2006 I flicked across the TV channels and saw that on BBC1 there was a show presented by Nadia Sawalha. I had seen her before presenting a show, around that time of day, about people moving to Spain called A Place in the Sun, and, since it was our intent to buy a new place with my show winnings, I stayed on it. But it was not that, and proved to be something called Accidents Can Happen. I had never heard of it before. It seemed to be about mishaps to people´s family homes and portrayed, among other cases, that of a guy whose thatched cottage had caught fire when he was away. He lived in the same tiny village as the Ingrams; Easterton. I then went upstairs and saw that an email from the Daily Mirror had arrived. It mentioned an article in that day´s paper about my win which drew attention to my support for Ingram and how I had only been able to answer question seven because I had driven past those stones when returning from visiting him. I had hoped to try in some other English-speaking parts of the world, but I discovered that the show in Singapore (for which I would have been eligible through having lived there in 1970) has folded, and the Aussie and New Zealand ones I may not apply for. It´s folded in Eire, and I am ineligible also for the Canadian, American and Nigerian versions. So, nothing for it; I´ll have to swot up on my Spanish and try here next year! 

March ‘06 | THE HASTINGS TRAWLER

29


LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Letters to the Editor Showing the way forward From Hari Kunzru, Hackney, London Dear Sir: Congratulations on the first three editions of The Hastings Trawler. Every town looks to its local press to provide a sense of community and history. The Trawler does both these things and more. With its investigation of local political issues it’s showing the way forward for small magazines everywhere. I look forward to see what your talented team dredges up next. Hari Kunzru Homer nodded! From Eric Jackson, Guestling Dear Sir: At the end of the profile of Liane Carrol in the February edition of The Hastings Trawler various local jazz and blues venues were listed. Omitted were The Anchor in George Street, where jazz has been on offer every Tuesday for many years — unfortunately only duos, due to the ridiculous ‘two in a bar’ legislation. Also not listed are the monthly sessions at the Hastings and St Leonards Angling Club opposite the Albion pub, which has guested such star names as Alan Barnes and Bobby Wellins. The promoters for this location are pianist John Donaldson and artist Reg Hendrich (01424 729174). Coincidentally, both these venues are not more than 100 yards from your premises. Eric Jackson Confused From Peter Johnson, St. Leonards Dear Sir: Help! Who should us Old Labour supporters vote for in the Hastings Council elections in May? I went to a recent council meeting and frankly I was very embarrassed. The Lib-Dem councillors were saying near-enough right things (maybe because some of them were Labour not long ago!), while the Labour and Tories were behaving like bed-buddies, all smiles and meaningful glances at each other. How can one-time far-Lefties like Jeremy Birch and Jay Kramer snuggle up to those ghastly Tory retrogrades, who barely seemed able to speak, let alone think about anything? 32

THE HASTINGS TRAWLER|March ‘06

The public is confused about the way these elections are organised since Labour changed the rules. Now, the elections are held every other year, for one of the two councillors in your ward (they serve four years each). But just because you vote for someone, that does not mean very much, as Council power now rests in the hands of the cabinet, which decides everything. The other Council committees are just window dressing. Labour wants us old rank-and-filers to vote for them because of their regeneration programme. It sounded good, several years ago, but where are all the major improvements we were promised with the Bathing Pool, Sun Lounge, Bottle Alley, Pelham Place, the Stade, White Rock, the Station plaza, etc., etc? All we see on the streets is yet more consultants asking us the same questions about things they already know the answer to, as they stuff huge amounts of our money in their pockets. And backing them up is that bunch of grossly overpaid Council officers who specialise in waffling and idling. If Labour want to regain some credibility they should divorce the Tories and go back to their old superficially friendly relationship with the Lib Dems. Then they could stop wasting taxpayers’ money on the consultants and town hall dossers, and instead produce some results, rather than yet more promises. Peter Johnson Selling off the family jewells From Judy Clark, Collier Road, Hastings Dear Sir: The Borough Council recently published its draft Parks and Open Spaces Strategy Summary Report. This document has potentially serious implications for the future of many open spaces in Hastings and St Leonards. Prepared by consultants (Kit Campbell Associates, based in Edinburgh) and overseen by a Steering Group comprising various Council departments, 1066 Housing Association and Sea Space, it claims to present an objective assessment of

the quality and value of all parks and open spaces in Hastings and St Leonards (plus oddly enough, indoor sports facilities, swimming pools, and bowls facilities). All such places are given a ‘high’ or a ‘low’ for both quality and value such that each is placed in one of four categories (high quality and high value; high quality and low value; low quality and high value; low quality and low value). A series of barely readable maps for each type of ‘open space’ shows the category that each falls into. A catalogue of flaws should really condemn the document to the waste bin. But, leaving aside such issues as the failure to explain how the assessments are arrived at (and from what I have seen of the way allotments were assessed the method and its execution would disgrace an undergraduate) and the conceptual nonsense that the value of a place can be objectively assessed, there are significant concerns about how this strategy might be used. Tucked away in section 13 on page 8 is the recommendation that low quality, low value sites be ‘carefully reviewed. The Council will consider disposing of those sites for which there is no alternative greenspace use and no real need for the site.’ There are rather a lot of such sites (shown in red on the maps). Although the maps are so poor that it is often difficult to identify which site is which, and sites are shown ‘enlarged for clarity’ resulting in a quite misleading picture of the physical area in each of the four categories, it looks as if, for example, about one third of the allotment sites, half the grass football pitches, and many smaller greenspaces fall into the low quality, low value category. Releasing land for housing and other development immediately comes to mind in this context. I have raised this issue with Councillors and Council officers and been assured that the Council have no intention of getting rid of sites categorised as low quality and low value, but if so, why is the recommendation to consider disposal there at all? Readers can draw their own conclusions. The strategy is out for consultation until March 13. Get hold of a copy (from the Information Centre at the Town Hall) and tell the Council what you think of it. Judy Clark



The Hastings Trawler - 4 (March 2006)