Tourism service honoured at West Midlands awards ceremony

By Pits’n’Pots Reporter.

Stoke-on-Trent’s Tourism Information Service has received a top accolade last month in the Heart of England Excellence in Tourism Awards.

The awards evening on October 29, hosted by BBC presenters Nick Owen and Suzanne Virdee, celebrated the very best in tourism across the West Midlands.

The service was awarded for a high level of customer service provided by staff. The judges praised the high quality of information and personal service offered by staff, their strong local knowledge and commitment to the area.

On their visit to Stoke-on-Trent, the judges overall felt it was a very good experience with very high levels of customer service evident. Prior to entry, evidence had to be submitted giving examples of what the service offered, staff training and development and innovative marketing campaigns.

Councillor Hazel Lyth, cabinet member for economic development and culture, said: “Tourism in Stoke-on-Trent is an area which has seen a great deal of growth over recent times and one we are very keen to continue improve for visitors to our city.

“It’s a testament to the staff of this service to be recognised on this scale for their dedication, innovation and outstanding work ethic and I wish them the best of luck in the next stage of this prestigious competition.”

The service will now be entered into the national Enjoy England Awards as one of the representatives from the West Midlands in early 2010.

The Unknown Soldiers

Although many Remembrance events will have taken place over the weekend, the Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month will be marked by many with two minutes’ silence during which we will remember the Fallen from the two World Wars and innumerable conflicts since, and those still on-going.

But some are better remembered than others. Most of us are too young to personally remember the Second World War, and the last combatants of the First World War passed away this summer. Many of our fathers and grandfathers weren’t called up because they were needed in the pits, steelworks or on the railways, and those who did go to war back then often didn’t talk about it. So often the picture in our mind’s eye comes from films or television.

We all know this can give a distorted view. With so many films made in the US, no-one can doubt the role the Americans had, and there have been notorious cases of them stealing other people’s thunder, as in U571 where American forces get hold of the German Enigma machine several years before, in reality, they were involved in the war at all!

Hollywood doesn’t give all American heroes their fair share of the limelight, though. When Flags of our Fathers was released, there was serious criticism that while the film’s battle scenes showed scores of young soldiers in combat, none of them were African-American. Yet almost 900 African-American troops took part in the battle of Iwo Jima.

Mind you, how many non-white troops from Britain and the Commonwealth made it onto film? I’m fairly sure there was a Sikh mosquito pilot in 633 Squadron but I honestly can’t recall any allied soldier, sailor or airman who wasn’t white in any of the British “war movies” I’ve seen (film buffs, feel free to take this up as a challenge and correct me if I’m wrong!).

This is a pretty serious oversight, as about 5 million African, Asian and Caribbean troops served in the British and Commonwealth forces in the two World Wars. There is now a memorial to them ““ the Memorial Gates – at the top of Constitution Hill in London, near Hyde Park Corner.

As well as the gates themselves, shown here, there is an elegant pavilion with the names of those who won a VC or George Cross inscribed inside the dome:

It was opened by the Queen in 2002, some might say a little belatedly.

During the First World War Soldiers from the Indian sub-continent fought in all the major wartime theatres. Two infantry and two cavalry divisions had arrived on the Western Front in 1914 and eventually 140,000 men saw service there. Indian troops fought in Palestine and Mesopotamia (Iraq) and alongside British and ANZAC troops on the Gallipoli Peninsula. They also formed a large proportion of the Allied forces occupying former enemy territory in East Africa, the Balkans, Asia Minor and the Caucasus. In total 1.27 million Indians served as combatants and labourers ““ “India” at that time included modern Pakistan and Bangladesh.

During the war around 15,000 West Indians also enlisted, including 10,000 from Jamaica. Although a few served in regular British Army units, most men from the Caribbean served in the West India Regiment and the British West Indies Regiment (raised in October 1915), serving in France, Italy, Africa and the Middle East. Towards the end of the war, two battalions saw combat in Palestine and Jordan against the Turks.

By November 1918 the “ËœBritish Army’ in East Africa was mainly composed of African soldiers. The units involved were the West African Frontier Force drawn from Nigeria, the Gold Coast (Ghana) and Sierra Leone, and the King’s African Rifles, recruited from Kenya, Uganda and Nyasaland (Malawi). At least 180,000 Africans served in the Carrier Corps in East Africa and provided logistic support to troops at the front. Over 60,000 of them came from South Africa. Black South Africans were restricted to a logistical role because the South African government feared arming them. Around 25,000 South Africans were also recruited to the South African Native Labour Contingent that served on the Western Front in 1916-17.

There’s an interesting local connection to this, as one of the many African troops was John Roberts, reputed to be the first black man to settle in Stoke-on-Trent, whose sons Kenneth and Leslie both fought in the Second World War. Leslie survived D-Day and lived locally until his death in 2001, but Kenneth was killed at Arnhem.

During the Second World War (1939-45), over three million Empire troops served with distinction throughout the North and East African campaigns, in the Mediterranean, Western Europe and the Far East, including the two-million strong Indian Army, the largest volunteer army in history. In South East Asia Command, 58% of Lord Louis Mountbatten’s personnel were Indian (and 25% were African) by 1945. Twenty-eight VC’s were won by soldiers of the British Indian Army, from all the States in India, including the Nepalese Ghurkha battalions.

The Africans proved to be notable jungle fighters. Particularly compared with Europeans, they were more resistant to tropical diseases and heat, and their sickness rates were among the lowest in Burma. Over 350,000 African troops fought in East Africa, defeating the Italians in Somaliland and Abyssinia.

The West Indies provided more recruits for the RAF than any other part of the Colonial Empire when recruitment was opened later in the war.

Over 15,000 colonial subjects served at sea with the Merchant Navy, and about 5,000 of the 30,000 merchant seamen who lost their lives during the war came from Imperial territories ““ Hong Kong, Malaya, India (Goa and Bengal), West Africa, and the West Indies. Less than four years ago, this memorial beside the Mersey in Liverpool was dedicated to one group of them.

There are other faces we never see. About five years ago I visited several of the WWI Commonwealth War Graves sites near Ypres, and was surprised to note row after row of the neat white marble stones inscribed with Chinese characters. Until I saw these graves, I didn’t know the Chinese Labour Corps even existed.

Each also had a few words in English; one read “A good reputation endures forever”.

Let’s ensure it does. We will remember them…

New Look BNP Website Launched

By Mike Rawlins

The BNP have launched their new look website this week at http://bnp.org.uk a nice blue looking site with the headline ‘Standing Up For Great Britain’ a couple of pictures of Party Leader Nick Griffin MEP and an image of Churchill for good measure.

This site reminded me and several other people of another high profile campaign site we had seen recently.

The campaign website of Barack Obama http://www.barackobama.com no less.

Maybe the BNP web team do have a sense of irony..

Should parents have right to keep kids out of Sex Ed?

By Matt Taylor

It’s all over the papers today: Balls releases his all-new strategy on sex-education, and the Tory rags have already set tongues wagging in ‘respectable’ middle-class households everywhere disgusted at the prospect that their innoccent teeny somethings could be defiled by such corrupt obscenity.

And of course the whole thing has been sensationally exaggerated, by using the fact that, under new plans, primary school-aged pupils will learn basics about parts of the body, to rationalise headlines like ‘sex and drugs lessons at age 5′.

The crux of the matter is, teenagers will now receive a year’s teaching on sex, contraception and relationships, and short of breaking the law by not sending their kids to school at all, parents won’t be able to do a bloody thing about it because, for the first time, it will become compulsory to take the course before reaching the legal age of consent, by which time most of the teenagers of Stoke, let’s face it, would be able to hold the lecture themselves.

As well as this, under the new Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) syllabus to be taught in both primary and secondary schools kids of seven will learn the joys of puberty and the “birds and the bees”, whilst five-year-olds will find out about the “parts of the body” ready to be met with much giggling from pupils, amid embarrassment on behalf of primary teachers forced to take on the new responsibility.

Included in the high school agenda will be lessons on single-sex relationships and civil partnerships, and faith schools which instill religions in which sex before marriage is prohibited will have to teach contraception methods to teenagers being told that they are forbidden from actually using them.

From a local perspective, you’d have to welcome the news, considering levels of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. In fact, looking at some of the sights I see in the streets of Hanley, to go as far as adding some kind of ‘good parenting’ course along with the free contraceptive rations wouldn’t go amiss.

And from a personal perspective, the more education on this, the better, so long as they don’t start going into details about foreplay to five-year-olds and preserve just a little but of our children’s innoccence. They could even throw in some ‘how to pull’ classes so that some of the new-found technical information is actually put to good use, rather than (if my memory bears any resemblance to any other teenage guys’) just making them even more sexually frustrated.

Those who are up in arms about the idea of putting filth into the minds of their youngters need to get off their high horses and realise that with TV, films, magazines and even computer games today, their kids have got sod all chance of evading the subject of carnal refreshment. So to prevent them from being taught about it would be idiocy. What’s needed is enough lectures to keep the horny little beggers clear of the dreaded STDs and away from becoming the world’s youngest mum and dad. We’ve got enough of a cross to bear in Stoke without holding that record too.

Council Spending

An open letter to the elected members & leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council

4 November 2009

Dear Councillors,

Today the leader of the London Borough of Barnet announced that all expenditure over £500 would be published on the council website http://www.barnet.gov.uk/.  The council voted unanimously to approve this and it will start from the next financial year.  Mike Freer Leader of Barnet Council has decided that he will publish his expenses on his blog every month.

Mike Freer’s Blog post on the subject can be read here.

Will Stoke-on-Trent City Council consider doing the same?

Kind Regards

Mike Rawlins

Longton

If you wish to sign this letter please add your name to the comments below and I’ll update the post periodically and ensure that a copy is sent to each councillor.  You may of course contact your ward councillor send them a link to this post  and ask them directly to support this.

For Whom The ‘Bell’ Tolls

Source: Potteye Blog.

by Mike Barnes.

Cllr Joan Bell recently returned to the Labour Group and made the following quote:

“I was reluctant to leave the Labour Group, but was unable to work with the leader elected at the annual general meeting in June.”

During the time of Mrs Bell’s absence I remained silent about the matter but now feel I must set the record straight.

Firstly, let me say that Joan Bell has become an excellent ward councillor within the Longton South Ward. However, there is a much darker side to Joan which is very difficult to work with. Much of which has led to Joan not speaking to me for some considerable time and revolves around three key issues.

Joan was selected by the Labour Party to stand in the local elections in 2006, and I volunteered to be her election agent. I was also a leading figure in the growing Democracy4Stoke movement.

All of the local leaflets produced by me to promote Joan included the D4S logo and Joan, Bagh Ali and my commitment and support in the campaign to get rid of the Elected Mayor system in Stoke.

I believe this was a significant factor in her election victory.

However, following her appointment to the Elected Mayor’s Board, she appeared to change her stance to the point where she attacked me and said I was an “embarrassment” to the Labour Party, and that she never really supported our campaign.Subsequently, she did indeed help in the campaign to retain the Elected Mayor System during the Referendum against the indications made to her electorate at the time of her election.

I was a founding member of D4S and remained absolutely committed to its principles and objectives despite many, many attempts from all levels of the Labour Party to stop me at almost any cost.

Joan also made it difficult to work with her in the ward when she refused to speak to me following as issue regarding SERCO and its reorganisation of Childrens Social Care.

The initial implementation of the reorganisation, I think even SERCO would agree, was handled very badly, with little support for those affected and very poor communication. Joan Bell was the Chair of the Children and Young People’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee. I had received many distressing calls from staff in Children’s Social Care, and indeed my wife was also a member of staff, which made it all the more personal to me. I made many attempts to Joan to scrutinise the matter to no avail, and led to me challenging her at a Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee, as to why she was doing nothing over the matter. She didn’t speak to me for months and I was sacked as Chair of the Adult and Older People’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee by Mike Tappin (incidentally against the policies and procedures of the Labour Party).

The next time she decided not to speak to me for months was when Dave Conway and myself started to have major concerns about Homelessness in the City. Joan Bell was the EMB member responsible for this issue, and both Dave and myself raised the matter at every internal meeting we could for three months. Once again to no avail. We eventually referred the matter to the relevant Scrutiny Committee.

She sent me an email which finished with the line “On a personal basis I have so often made allowances for your behaviour I feel I have come to the end of the road. I no longer wish to either work with you or speak to you.”

I am passionate about many issues, but to have this kind of pressure to keep quiet, otherwise I would not be spoken to was extremely difficult to work with. However, many others have suffered the same fate over the years.

You either agree with Joan or you get the silent treatment.

I don’t pretend to be easy to work with, but I have always tried to treat others with respect, and have never refused to speak to somebody because I disagreed with their views, from any political party, let alone my closest allies and ward colleagues.

Ride with pride with CycleStoke

By Pits’n’Pots Reporter.

The first lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender cycle ride organised by the CycleStoke will take place this Sunday (November 8).

The ride aims to bring everyone together and allow members of the gay community, their friends, family and children to have a chance to enjoy cycling in the city.

It follows a fantastic response received by CycleStoke at the pride festival day in August where over 100 people left their details for information on future events and over 250 cycle maps were handed out.

Andy Murphy, network coordinator for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Network said: “This is a great opportunity to bring people together and if it proves successful it could be the first of another six similar events we plan to hold next year. We are asking for as many people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community with their friends and families to come along and support the event”.

Councillor Derek Capey, cabinet member for sport, leisure, parks and open spaces added: “Cycling is a wonderful way for the different communities in our city to come together and enjoy the superb scenery that Stoke-on-Trent has to offer. Recently we have opened a number of new cycle paths in and around the city as part of our Cycling City status which events like this will be able to make full use of. With this status we can tap into communities which may not have considered cycling as a pastime and show everyone in the city the joys and benefits it brings.”

The ride starts at 1pm at Westport Lake car park taking and the surrounding area. It is suitable for all ages and any level of cycling experience. The ride will be marshalled by experienced cyclists.

The CycleStoke bike doctor will be on hand to give a free bike maintenance check to all bikes and give out free bike lights and goodie bags. CycleStoke will also provide a limited number of free to hire bikes on the day. Anyone interested in a hire bike is asked to call 01782 266998 in advance.

Female blacksmith to demonstrate skills at Etruria Industrial Museum

By Pits’n’Pots Reporter.

The first female blacksmith to set up shop at Etruria Industrial Museum will have her first public display this weekend.

Charis Jones and her business Sculpted Steel have taken up residents at the museum for the next year and will publicly demonstrate to visitors the skills of typical and artistic blacksmithing.

Her first demonstration will take place this weekend at the Etruria Industrial Museum’s Mill in Steam session. The display will be set in the museum forge.

Charis said: “I am keen to widen the understanding and appreciation of blacksmiths art to the public, especially to ensure that people do not think that forged metal belongs to a bygone age but can fit into modern, contemporary design. Relocating to Etruria is an ideal opportunity to further this aim.”

Councillor Hazel Lyth, cabinet member for economic development and culture, added: “Blacksmithing is an art form which has a distinctly male history; therefore having a female blacksmith starting work at the museum is very special. Charis comes with great pedigree in her field and this move will provide her and the museum with a wonderful platform to compliment each other.”

Blacksmith displays will take place on both Saturday November 7 and Sunday November 8, between 12:30pm and 4:00pm. The mill will be in steam on the hour between 1:00pm and 4:00pm on both days.

Two Tory MEPs Quit over Cameron’s EU folly

By Tony Walley

Conservative leader David Cameron has been hit by two MEP resignations and has been accused by the French of ‘castrating’ Britains position in the EU.

France’s Europe Minister Pierre Lellouche also described the Conservatives approach to Europe as ‘autistic’, ‘pathetic’ and likely to turn Great Britain into a backwater which would disappear ‘off the radar’.

Two Tory MEP’s have quit over Camerons handling on the referendum issue.

Daniel Hannan quit last night claiming that he would campaign for referendums and other public involvement, whilst Roger Helmer has quit because he felt that he could no longer justify or support the party’s new EU Policy.

So what is all the fuss about you may ask, does the now ratified Lisbon Treaty really damage our country’s sovereignty? Here is a brief overview of what the Lisbon Treaty means for the EU members and in particular Great Britain:

Source: The Daily Mail

Pierre Lellouche also claimed that EU Leaders would not help a Conservative government to renegotiate powers for ‘many many years.’

Speaking on BBC2′s Newsnight programme, William Hague said that the French EU Ministers comments did not represent how the Conservative party are seen across Europe. He also  insisted that his party had a good relationship with Mr Sarkozy’s party.

Well whilst this issue is about the front of all political debate at the moment let’s have your thoughts on the Lisbon Treaty and it’s ratification.

Have the Conservatives been damaged by their handling of the referendum issue?

Do we need to be in the European Union full stop?

Bonfire Ban: killjoy council or responsible action?

By Matt Taylor

Over a dozen bonfires around the city have been destroyed in a blitz against ‘unlicensed’ celebrations. The operation involving council officers and fire servicemen saw some of those involved pelted with stones as they dismantled miniature home-made reenactments of the infamous Guy Fawkes’s almost inferno at the houses of parliament.

Mounds of rubbish collected in spare ground and sports fields by revelers who wanted to host their own celebrations have already been taken away, amounting to a not insignificant 45 tonnes of killjoy clearance.

Whilst I acknowledge the need to ensure the safety of people of the city, it’s just yet another example of the proliferation of the nanny state. One fire safety officer claimed it was because they “find people come out at night and put things like old mattresses on, which represents a danger. We are finding old tyres and when they’re lit, they give off toxic fumes”. If so, then publically warn people not to put things on the bonfire that cause harmful emissions, rather than spoiling the fun and demolishing them altogether, and forcing people to go to overpriced commercial displays such as the city display in Fenton accompanied by the intolerable Signal DJs, fireworks that appear to be a repeat performance every year and, hang on a minute, no bonfire!

It’s not just about spoiling a bit of fun, it’s about how far the authorities are prepared to go with the health and safety regime. And I myself and certainly no stranger to it. Last year some of you may have been along to Piccadilly Circus, a festival I organised in the city centre. In order to get the license for such a thing, you have to jump through so many bureaucratic hoops you could fill a filing drawer with the ‘risk-assessments’. And even then, someone still found room to criticise the hog-roast that didn’t have sufficient covering to stop someone falling on it and burning themselves if they were clumsy enough.

It’s all about where does this stop before our own liberties become eroded away to the extent that we have to ask the council for permission before inviting friends around for a barbecue. Last night I had the pleasure of going to see Muse in Sheffield arena, where buzzing fans climbed on top of the bouncing crowd and ‘surfed’ to the front. Hardly something you could deem as a safe activity. But the fact is, short of cancelling rock concerts altogether, there’s not a great deal ‘they’ can do about it. It’d be a bit like trying to enforce a no-smoking policy at a Jamaican marijuana convention.

Some of the best parties I remember as a child on November 5 were at organised, but ‘unratified’ events, where bonfires were built out of furniture that had seen better days and baked potatoes in foil and sausages got toasted on the fire. And the biggest disaster to happen back then was when everyone realised that the unforunately fashionable Shell Suits were rather flammable.

Of course people need to be kept safe. But is it not up to the authorities to advise, and then allow adults to use their own common sense to ensure that nobody gets hurt and that the kids are safe and sound? Perhaps with some parents that’s a bit much to expect, I suppose, but at least it’d be better than the gestapo approach.