We've been cooped up too long haven't we ?, after a week at work one thing I used to enjoy and I know to some it may sound a bit dull was a walk into town and a mooch around the market,
Ok I'd usually stop at the little kiosk for a tea and a bacon butty, and a chat more often than not.
Getting a haircut was sometimes my first stop, I'd get to the barbers early as I'm one of those impatient people who hates to wait around, into the chair and come out a changed man.
Sometimes on the market I'd get chatting to some of the characters who would be there like me just taking in the scenery while they supped their chosen beverage, I've had some great chats to any number of interesting people over the years.
Those my friends were the days, the ability to just mooch around, maybe drop in at the pub and have a quick pint, take a look at some of my favourite buildings, one of these being what was many years ago The Corn Exchange, which then became a cinema, and long after that a nightclub.
Situated on the periphery of the market square it has sat empty for some time, before Covid 19 I think there were plans to redevelop it, maybe when things improve it may still happen but for now all it houses are the memories of the people who entered the building over the years.
We've had a market in the town centre for over 800 years, it's witnessed historic events, it's seen boom and bust, back in the sixties it would be thronged with ladies shopping, sometimes with their children with them, they would chat to friends, buy vegetables, meat, linen, and go home tired but happy.
The market traders would shout out trying to attract custom to their stalls, my own favourite memory is of being on the market when I was very young and for some reason a Hog roast was going on, the smells and sounds stayed with me all these years.
This central area of Northampton saw lots of change towards the end of the sixties and the beginning of the seventies, talk to anyone who was around in those days and they will tell you what a crime it was that The Emporium Arcade was demolished, and that the town was never the same after that.
Concrete monoliths were erected, old rows of terraced houses pulled down, old pubs, churches, very little was spared the attentions of the wrecking cranes and bulldozers, character was sacrificed to the god of concrete.
The building which would later be voted as one of the most ugly buildings in the country was slowly erected, huge concrete beams were hoisted into position and many thousands of bricks were laid, concrete poured.
This was Greyfriars Bus Station a construction that never failed to elicit strong opinions and debate amongst not only Northamptonians but people all over the UK. it also served as the coach station for the town.
This redevelopment was not of course unique to my town, it was happening all over the country, the ugly results of which can still be seen to this day, and don't get me wrong some of the old terraced house did need to go.
However not enough thought was put into the bigger picture and the end results of all this out with the old in with the new mentality was a mixture of some good and a lot of the very bad.
Now I'm getting to my point, I don't look at Facebook very often these days but when I do there is an ongoing debate about the plans to redevelop the market in Northampton, I'll give my thoughts on this.
Obviously the pandemic and lockdown has taken its toll on footfall but even before this the market has been dying a slow death, a victim of changed shopping habits and a general (in my opinion) decline in standards in the town.
Below is the Emporium Arcade which was the subject of a report by the famous architectural historian Ian Nairn.
The picture below was taken pre-covid, and you can just see the concrete multi-storey car park, a lot of the space on the marketis no longer occupied with stalls.
An extract from Northamton Borough Councils Town Centre Masterplan (Heritage)
In the local rag the idea's put forward make interesting reading, but they have to be taken in the context of what we already know, and I will expand on that shortly.
Do I agree with the above in terms of heritage,? broadly yes but read on because there are fundamental flaws in the heritage statement. Let me lay out my thoughts and we can dissect their stated aims.
The land My personal thoughts on the Market Square and the town centre in general.
There is no doubt that as it is the town centre and its hub the Market Square is not what it was, it's no longer a welcoming place to be and the reasons for that are many and not unique to our town.
Why do I say it's not a welcoming place to be, for me the main factors are these -
The whole town centre looks tired, many of the shops which were once the main attractions to shoppers have gone, the latest was Marks and Spencer which was in the town for many years.
British Home Stores went long before M&S, and many other shops have over the years disappeared to be replaced by charity shops while some have stood empty.
A major factor for me is the amount of anti social behaviour that goes unchecked, this is down to the lack of any visible Police presence in the town, that and the people living on the street don't make for a pleasant environment.
The question of homelessness is another discussion altogether so I'm not going to get into that suffice to say this is not a blame game on my part merely my own observations.
When Greyfriars Bus Station was demolished there was talk of the land that it stood on be re-developed, now that land has stood empty for years and frankly looks like second world war bomb site.
For a town where the powers that be had the not so brilliant idea of building the new Bus Station closer to where the pollution that comes from the buses is most likely to affect people there would be a good way to counter balance that particular faux pas.
The land that now stands empty should be made into a Park, trees, grass, benches, small cafes where people could buy a coffee and sit amidst the greenery, what better way to get rid of an eyesore and help reduce pollution?.
Now to address the Market Square specifically and historic buildings on the periphery of the Square.
What does the above statement mean in real terms, and what questions does it raise?.
The general upkeep of historic buildings, that is a fine aspiration but my questions would be this .
Who owns these buildings, are they privately owned if so who would provide the finance for their enhancement?.
If some of them are Council owned who again would finance their enhancements given the state of the Councils finances.
What specifically does upkeep and enhancement mean?,
And again who would be responsible for that ?
I don't want this to seem completely negative because the town does have some beautiful buildings, The Town Hall being probably the best example.
We all know that the statement above regarding the high street being the heart of our local communities is largely true and this begs the question?.
What can our town centre offer now that the tendency for people to shop online has grown exponentially and the small businesses located in the town centre will see less and less footfall?.
I asked around about what other Northamptonians think, here are two responses.
"They need to make it appealing for people to stay there, and also to work for people passing through. At the moment, it's just a cut-through. I do think looking at the Square in isolation though means they won't solve the wider issue ".
"I think the Council has to magically make the Market Square the focal point of the town centre, and a destination, which isn't easy because they've been struggling to do that for as long as I can remember. I like the idea of providing trees and areas for cafes and bars".
And here we have the crux of the issue, if the town is no longer a primary destination for shopping then what is it, what can it offer?.
The first problem is getting people to visit in the first place, because at the moment it offers very little, how to change this I'll be honest I don't know.
Secondly I agree with the response above about making it appealing for people to stay there, and that ties into the second response about providing tree's and area's for cafes and bars.
Again I come back to this, the town needs to be properly policed, and by this I don't mean reactive policing but more proactive policing.
I know this is not the remit of the Council but they admit themselves that this is an major factor in making a place feel safe for people.
The level of anti social behaviour is not acceptable, there have been to many incidents of violence especially in the Drapery, and until the town centre is perceived as safe this will deter a lot of people from wanting to visit it.
The amount of fly tipping on the periphery of the town in increasing and the council make no effort to trace and punish the offenders, so even travelling into town can be a depressing event.
I am aware of the fact that councils funding from Central Government has been cut year after year and so I do have a level of sympathy on that front, but the councils contribute to their financial woes time and again.
When a Council lends £10 million pounds to a football club and that money is lost you have to ask some very serious questions, and when the County Council builds a brand new Headquarters at a cost of £53 million and then declares its bankrupt?.
I'm afraid that our some of our local representatives are not up to the job, and that has been the case for some considerable time.
Before Covid 19 struck I was walking near All Saints Church where the Taxi rank is located, many of the taxis had their engines idling and the smell of diesel was strong and unpleasant.
I contacted the Council (who had declared a climate emergency) and asked why this was allowed to happen and pointed out it was not good for pedestrians.
Their response was - (I will leave the spelling mistakes in)
"Dear Mr Nicholls,
I am e-mailing you regarding your enquiry about hackney cabs ideling their engines on the Wood Hill rank on the afternoon of 26th June 2019.
Whilst I agree that it serves no purpose and is unsessesy for hackney cab operators to idle their vehicles engines during the warm periods of weather, there are currently no Road Traffic Orders in place to prevent any vehicle to idle whilst parked stationary in the town centre. Such orders are put in place by and enforced by the Highways Authority which is currently a County Council function.
There is legislation that makes it an offence to leave a vehicle engine running unnecessarily whilst parked under the Road Vehicle Regulations (1986). A £20 fixed penalty notice can be served under the Road Traffic (Vehicle Emissions) (Fixed Penalty) (England) Regulations 2002. To the best of my knowledge, Northampton Borough Council have not adopted a policy to enforce this legislation thus enforcement officers are not authorized to enforce the legislation. Consideration has been given in the past to such actions but in order for a fine to be issued the driver of a vehicle has too refused to turn their engine off after being asked to do so by a council official.
In an effort to improve air quality within the borough, Northampton BC have adopted a Taxi emissions policy which will require older vehicles to be replace with more newer environmental friendly types over a phased period. Eventually, new registered vehicles will be required to be Ultra Low Emission Vehicle types (e.g. fully electric). A link to the document is available online at https://www.northampton.gov.uk/downloads/download/3513/taxi-and-private-hire-vehicle-specifications-and-emission-policy
To facilitate the uptake of operators purchasing ULEV’s within their fleets, the Council are in the process of installing rapid chargers in council owned and operated carparks. This is hoped to be achieved by the end of 2019 as we have successfully bid for grant funding from the Office of Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV).
Environmental Health are currently in the process of revising the boundaries of the town center Air Quality Management Areas to take into account newly identified areas that are currently not compliant with legal air quality levels. When we develop an action plan to reduce transport related emissions vehicle engine idling could be considered as a direct action.
I hope this provides an overview about what the council are currently doing to try to reduce transport related vehicle emissions to help improve the health and wellbeing of the residents of Northampton.
Gavin Smith | Senior Environmental Health Officer
You can deduce what you want from their response but from my point of view it's the familiar " It's nothing to do with us gov" attitude,
Of course there is always the use of the word "eventually" which means at some undefined point in the future, which in reality means "we don't care about you breathing in toxic fumes at this particular point in time".
"There is legislation that makes it an offence to leave a vehicle engine running unnecessarily whilst parked under the Road Vehicle Regulations (1986). A £20 fixed penalty notice can be served under the Road Traffic (Vehicle Emissions) (Fixed Penalty) (England) Regulations 2002. To the best of my knowledge, Northampton Borough Council have not adopted a policy to enforce this legislation thus enforcement officers are not authorized to enforce the legislation".
They enforce parking well enough because it's a source of easy revenue,
I have written the above as man born and bred in Northamptonshire, so my thoughts are not that of a person who has lived somewhere else and is just running Northampton down.
I have travelled widely and I've seen what can be done when things are thought through and above all properly financed, and the difference that can make to the quality of all our lives.
I'm not going to finish on a negative note, here are some pictures of Northamptonshire.
The end is nigh, the year that just keeps on disappointing is nearly done and dusted, those wishes we usually make in a light hearted way on New Years Eve for a better year to come will be sincere and heartfelt this time.
Lockdown in Summer was bearable for those of us lucky enough to have access to outside space, and I realise that's not all of us, but lockdown in Winter is another beast altogether.
The dark mornings and evenings combined with the perpetual rain we seem to have had have conspired to keep us inside our homes which we leave infrequently anyway, no escape to the garden or allotment or rarely is pure purgatory.
Sadly the death toll seems to have risen again and the debate on social media about how serious this thing is rages on, I personally don't know anyone who has passed away but the stories of people who have and the heartbreak for their families is a reminder to me not to become relaxed about the whole thing.
What has been really good to see is how some people have been helping others out, that could be with food, just generally keeping an eye on their elderly neighbours, and a whole host of other ways.
I don't want this to become a political rant but this pandemic has highlighted the level of need in some parts of the UK if it wasn't already evident, and I know there are very different opinions on the cause of this and generally it tends to polarise people into two camps.
In my own hometown this organisation does some fantastic work for people on the street,
Hope Centre – Tackling homelessness, rebuilding lives (northamptonhopecentre.org.uk)
Personally I just want to get through to Spring when I can start growing stuff again, I'm already in the process of planning that, and with each day that passes we get nearer to the days becoming longer,.
I have a tree in my back garden which has a very prickly bush entwined in it which not so much now as the birds have been feeding on them, was a few weeks ago covered with red berries.
Watching the various birds from robins to thrushes and blackbirds feeding on these little red globes is a joy,
Some months back I planted a selection of cabbages, caulis, kale, and brussels, a few weeks back the caulis started to form nice white firm heads, I went up to the allotment this morning and was a bit disheartened to see this.
I'm not sure what has happened here, someone on the web suggested soft rot which can affect vegetables, apparently prolonged periods of wet can be the cause so perhaps the long period of rain we have had has been the culprit?.
Needless to say the wind has been taken out of my growing sails, so it looks like | will have to find out how to grow caulis without them morphing into some sort of horrible skin condition.
Cauliflower cheese anyone ?. I could use mouldy cheese :)
So having fretted over my caulis (not a euphemism) overnight, I read up on this heinous blighting of my young veggies, it seems they have fallen victim to BSR, Bacterial Soft Rot, which apparently is responsible for more crop loss than anything else
So people never take for granted those lovely white, firm caulis, or for that matter any lovely veg that ends up on your plate.
It's Saturday afternoon, as I write this.
But wait, I don't want to hark back to the pandemic but my radio has just announced there's going to be some sort of announcement at 4.00 PM, its sounds horribly like further restrictions are coming.
I know restrictions are necessary but they need people to be sensible and maybe it's just me but common sense seems to be in increasingly short supply, it's going to be interesting to see if tighter restrictions do come in what difference they make.
I left the laptop to listen to the announcement, wow, the shit show just got a whole lot shittier,
Now we have another tier, and the 5 day window is now down to one, and a new variant of Covid 19 is on the loose which apparently was known about for some time but not acted upon.
I know this sounds selfish but if I could find an unoccupied Scottish island with an old stone cottage, stocked with firewood, and enough food, and a selection of good books, I would gladly occupy it.
I'm talking about self imposed isolation in the middle of a long period of isolation, I am and I make no apology for it, though I know it probably seems very strange!.
Have you ever thought of living off grid?, I mean seriously, not the fleeting thoughts you have at the end of a bad day, but really thought about how you would cope, how you would occupy your time?.
Could you not only survive but also prosper and enjoy the experience?, maybe it would be bearable if you thought it would only be for a limited time, but what if you didn't have that in the back of your mind?.
No internet, no television, no washing machine, no cooker, nobody but yourself to rely on, nobody to bounce idea's off, no water coming out of a tap, could you, would you want to give it a go?.
I bought a book a few years back written by a young chap who wanted to try his hand living off grid, he went to live in an old abandoned building in Wales, near the Black Mountains from memory.
The building was ramshackle and very isolated which is exactly what he was looking for, he wanted this to be a real test and the book was a great read from start to end.
His first priority was to mend the roof where it leaked so he had a dry area to sleep in, he unblocked the chimney so he could have a fire to provide a bit of warmth and to cook on.
His repairs were rudimentary because his isolation meant he could only use what was at hand, but he found some very inventive ways to improve his living conditions.
His good fortune was that there was a plot where he could grow stuff, and reading about how he approached this and the end results made me think about how we take for granted fresh food, and the ease with which we can get hold of it.
His experience lasted for some years not just a few months, so he had to endure sickness during the time he was there, and that's when he really appreciated the fire because at one point he ended laying in front of it for days, recovering from Flu.
I think the most interesting aspect of his story was not only his own experience of survival when all the comforts are taken away but his observations of the wildlife which shared his surroundings.
He was able to observe the same birds coming back to nest where they had the previous year, and the interactions and behaviour's between the different species of birds, including birds of prey, and the unusual habits some of the birds displayed.
I often wonder how he got back into what we would call a normal life, the comforts must have seemed wonderful but I wonder if as he got used to these if there were any times when he thought back and missed a more simple life.
Regardless the experience would be something to look back upon and I would imagine fundamentally change the way we look at the sort of lives we lead, do we need all the things we think we need, I would imagine not.
Have we lost a connection to the what's real and just see what we regard as real?, undoubtedly we live longer generally healthier lives, but in other ways have we lost something precious?, easy for me to pontificate from the comfort of a centrally heated house I suppose.
I have to be honest I always struggle with Winter, so for me if I ever did try living off grid that surely would be my hardest time, especially the very wet Winters we seem to have now.
I would surely get through a small forest of firewood, which in itself might not be too ecologically friendly, and that is the problem with modern life, we are continually told that we are killing the planet.
Getting back to the unoccupied island, If you know of one feel free to contact me, I wait in eager anticipation.
Well here we are in October, the growing season is more or less finished bar a few things that can be grown over the Autumn / Winter months, and as I write this rain of biblical proportions is falling and it's dark at 2 PM in the afternoon.
What a strange year it's been, in March I had just got back from France when we went into lockdown, a bizarre experience, toilet rolls became as rare as Unicorns and milk was impossible to get hold of, pasta was bought by the bucket load and everything that came through the letterbox was doused with anti bacterial spray.
Hands were washed until raw, everyone was a possible carrier and walking (a rare treat) meant taking a wide berth when somebody was coming towards you, not everyone observed this and a few runners managed to get close to me whilst puffing and panting, which pissed me off somewhat.
People fell into two distinct camps, those who would willingly move to one side to keep a distance and those who were like a train on a track from which they couldn't deviate, either not seeing you or at least pretending they didn't.
March for me is usually a time to look forward and start to think about what I'm going to plant and the days drawing out just that tiny bit longer day by day, trips to the garden centre to stock up on compost (peat free), and get canes and stuff ready for the growing season.
This posed a problem as most garden centres were closed and most people would have been too scared to use them even if they had been open including myself. Luckily I had a good stock of seeds and managed to find a garden centre that took orders on the web and delivered to my door.
I managed to get hold of some tiny tomato plants and two chilli plants, I got the tomatoes planted out into compost in buckets which is how I usually grow them.
My conservatory gradually became full of small pots with seedlings growing by the day, | was really pleased when the melon seeds germinated, along with the aubergine seeds, this time I wanted to actually end up with some edible ones.
Those little plants grew well and with the hot weather that came in the Summer I ended up with lots of lovely toms.
Back in March I didn't know how much the allotment was going to turn out to be very important in staying sane over the coming months, being able to get out and talk to people was going to become so important.
I This year I wanted to grow some things that I'd tried last year but which hadn't quite worked out, aubergines being one, they had formed but had never grown into a usable size, but I also wanted to try some new things.
Someone at the allotment had told me they had grown melons successfully and the chap on the plot next to mine had given me cucumbers last year which gave me the idea to try and grow some myself.
I had never grown peas before so this was something else to give a go, so on my rather ambitious list for 2020 were -
My plot is a tale of two halves, the top end is very heavy clay soil, the other end is a lighter soil but very stony, my shed was taking up quite a lot of room at the stony end and was in a sorry state so it came down. I could then use the bit where the shed had been to grow more stuff.
The boards which mark the border of the plot were all pretty much rotten, so I took the opportunity to take these all up and replace them with new ones, and so after some digging the plot was ready to grow stuff as soon as the seedlings were a bit more mature. The ground was still relatively cold so I needed this to warm up a bit as well, a bit like a kid waiting for Christmas.
For the last three years I have had a few empty plots near me, not that I mind to be honest I enjoy the solitude sometimes and I can always wander down and have a natter with some of my fellow plot holders.
This year was different because people had cottoned on to the fact that a plot was going to give them at least an element of freedom and all the empty plots were snapped up.
And so I had lots of new neighbours who set about their new plots with gusto, one young couple employed a gardening company to clear their plot which was admittedly like the Borneo jungle.
Others did it the hard way digging and clearing all the weeds, some bought their children which livened the place up a bit, there were barbebcues, a very pleasant vibe developed from a pretty horrible general situation.
Some of the newcomers were asking me for tips and I passed on what little know how I have accumulated, which is not a whole lot, we were swapping plants we had too many of, the allotment really was helping me get through these strange times.
The weeks passed and my melon seedings had progressed well in the conservatory and I had high hopes. Growing is a learning process and this year I was going to learn a lesson on how germination takes place with melons.
The melon plant needs the bees to move between the flowers so germination can take place, unfortunately I left the plants in the conservatory perhaps a month too long, so the bees couldn't get at them.
Once I did put them out into the garden I watched the bees settle on the flowers and just hoped I hadn't left things too late, lesson well and truly learnt.
On the large Oak tree near my plot is a bird box, early in the year I always watch to see if the box is being used, this year I didn't see any activity but last year I spent quite a time watching the parent birds flying back and forth with food for the fledglings.
Once the soil had warmed a bit I put in some peas, when they popped through I was delighted and I built a support for them to climb up, but something or rather somethings were about to intervene in my quest for fresh peas for dinner.
Pigeons seemed to have multiplied and they descended on the young pea shoots and proceeding to feast on them, yes I know I should have netted them but I didn't and so they were mercilessly ravaged.
Miraculously they seemed to recover slightly and I did get a few peas, not many but what | did get were nice, so all in all I considered that a result of sorts and a lesson to me to protect the young shoots next year.
The Chard I planted seemed to flourish and I ended up with quite a lot, Chard has such vivid colours, it's a joy to look at.
My melon mishap didn't turn out so badly, from this baby I got one reasonably sized and very tasty orange fleshed melon.
I also ended up with two cucumbers, which I was particularly pleased with, eaten along with my home grown tomatoes.
I even managed a few Peppers, they did seem to take a long time to grow but we got there in the end.
Something did take a liking to my Sweetcorn, well and truly nibbled.
Meanwhile in the garden.
I think its safe to say that food is one of if not the greatest pleasure in life, looking at it, anticipating it, smelling it, feeling it, talking about it, and of course eating it. In fact I had some great food last night cooked by a Nepalese friend, the food was spicy, with so many different flavours and textures, absolutely wonderful,
If you have never tried Nepalese food you are missing out,
One of the most popular Nepali dishes Momo is a doughy steamed dumpling originating in Tibet and served with a Nepalese spice dip.
The spice dip my friend served was hot, hot, hot,
Traditionally stuffed with ground buffalo meat known locally as “buff”, they are now more commonly found filled with goat or chicken, I'm not sure what mine were stuffed with but they were very morish.
They remind very much of Chinese dumplings, I had some very good Chinese dumplings in Melbourne which has a big Chinese quarter, great food, great aroma's and worth trying if you haven't done before.
You can get vegetarian alternatives which have a variety of finely chopped vegetables including carrot, cabbage and potato.
Many versions of the momo abound, deep-fried andif its your thing dessert momos filled with chocolate. Although eaten as a snack, momo can also be served with a rich broth.
During the day I had wandered along to the Love Northampton food fair which was held in the Guildhall, a visually treat of a building both inside and out, located right in the centre of the town.
The interior of a building can either make you feel alive and inspired, or bring your mood down, the fabric of the building itself can feel alive and make you feel the same way, invigorated, curious to learn more.
Overlooking proceedings are a rather dour looking Oliver Cromwell, don't know what he would have made of the food and drink, and his old enemy Charles 1st, no doubt his court would have welcomed the wine, although rose may have been a step too far even for the King.
The other person pictured is ???
You could even draw a parallel between dull and uninspiring food and dull and uninspiring buildings, Northampton has got some glorious buildings, it's also got some shockers, the Guildhall is one of the former,
Even on a wet and dull day like yesterday it's great to walk round the corner from the market and cast your eyes over the carved figures that cover the exterior, and I hope the thing is still standing hundreds of years from now.
Northampton has also got quite a lot of fast food outlets, but to balance that it also has some producers of high quality food and drink, and I'm not saying all fast food is bad, but I think it's important to have variety otherwise everything becomes homogenised.
Generally I think peoples expectations of food and drink is way beyond what it was even 20 years ago, we want quality, we have become obsessed with food, look at any night on the television, food programmes.
To see all the small artizan producers who go out of their way to brew great beers, distilling gin, producing meat and poultry without compromising our health, baking wonderful cakes, biscuits, bread, all this is good.
A few months ago I went out for Sunday lunch at a local pub and on the menu was Northamptonshire cheese, it was some of the best cheese I'd tasted for a very long time, that made the meal memorable for me.
So onto the food fair.
This thing of beauty is a breakfast loaf, I picked this up from Whittlebury Bakeries stall, absolutely gorgeous.
I also picked up some gingerbread houses for a friends children, they loved them, I had a little taste, I loved them too.
I was hoping to pick some Cobblers Nibble cheese but didn't see their stall yesterday, but here's a link
And here's another link to a cheesmaker I was completely unaware of -
If you have tried any of the cheeses from Nene Valley Dairy please give me some feedback, I'd like to here anybodies thoughts on the various cheeses they produce.
At this point a shout out to Shop Zero -
Picked up these nice fridge magnets from Fridge Street I like them all but I really like the one depicting the bandstand in Abington Park.
The St Crispin Street fail was in full swing while I was in town, but the wet weather had obviously put a lot of people off, and I can't blame them.
I stopped at a stall and got myself a tea and listened to the music being played for the various rides, most of it from the waltzer was early 70's stuff like "young gifted and black" and some Eddy Grant, "Electric Avenue".
Some years back I was coming back from work and got off the train at Castle Station and walked up Gold Street which was full of rides and stalls, because it was evening it bought the town alive, it was really good to see.
I know not everyone thinks its good for the town and maybe yeah its looks a bit tacky, but it livens things up a bit, although looking at the stallholders yesterday you could tell they would rather have been somewhere else, somewhere warm and dry.
I also had a chat with Fitzy on his market stall about the what is going on with the old building that was Chicago's, the scaffolding is still there but apparently the roofers haven't been paid so work has stopped.
A great shame as it would be good if the development really got going, as it is it's just another eyesore, not what we need.
This sunrise lit up the sky on a Monday morning in Northampton a few weeks ago, as I lay in bed I could see a red streak in the sky, then the sky slowly became more and more illuminated in red hues until I had to go outside in my pyjamas and get this picture.
On the subject of illumination -
With the nights drawing in as they are it's always great to see something that lifts a bit of the darkness, so last night I went along with some friends to the Diwali parade in Northampton town centre.
I'd been aware of it before but had never been along to watch, and I'm glad I did, the whole thing was a wonderful lift of the spirits.
Lots of children with their parents and drummers in colourful costume beating out a sound which in its own way lit up the mood for everyone, a delight to see so many smiling faces, and just what Northampton needs.
The parade passed slowly up Abington Street, then turned left down by St Giles church right onto St Giles Street,
A moody October sky with All Saints in the background.
Diwali celebrates the victory of good over evil and light over darkness, but it's also a time for friends to have fun and exchange gifts and sweets, and the work Diwali means "row of lights".
The parade ended on the Market Square, where everybody mingled and had a closer look at some of the very cleverly put together puppets, if that's the right word.
First off, we're into October and I'm starting to see Christmas tree's and all the other paraphernalia thats goes along with the season of good cheer in shops and garden centres.
This year seems to have gone by even faster than they normally do, a sign of my age I suppose, I went over to my very elderly Step Mums yesterday, she will be 91 this month, to plant out some winter plants for her and deliver some home made vegatable soup.
When I was 16 and she was 44 I thought she was old then, its seems incredible she's now over 90 and still going strong, if a little unsteady on her feet, I sometimes try to imagine being that age, to be honest I can't.
She is a mine of informtion on old Northampton, but because she is unsteady she doesn't get into town much now, but we often talk about what's going on, this week I was talking to her about a very positive proposed development for what used to the the site of the Angel Hotel in Bridge Street.
This was one of the oldest coaching inns in the country.
The building suffered a catastrophic fire way back in 2012, in fact January 2012 when it was being used as a bar called Fat Cats, I was in town not too far away and remember seeing the smoke, I didn't realise then how long the shell would remain surrounded by scaffolding or why.
The site has been an eyesore in the town centre for 7 years, now at last it looks as though that eyesore will be replaced by a new hotel, and a 4 star one to boot, which is great news for the centre.
This goes into detail
I get the thing about protecting very old buildings (Grade 11 listed) absolutely but maybe a balance has to be struck whereby the needs of the present are given as much thought, that's not to say we should give carte blanche to developers.
We have seen the result of developers ignoring laws for their own financial benefit, most notably in London where an historic pub was demolished on the whim of a dodgy development company,
But whatever way you look at it it's good news for the town, and will provide employment and jobs for people once it's built, when I took these pictures yesterday I also took this one.
This old boarded up snooker club sits directly opposite the site of the proposed new hotel, not something I'd want to be the first thing I saw when leaving my nice plush new building.
The town used to be well served by hotels, with one of the best known being the Grand which used to be located in Gold Street, that building is now a Travelodge.
A few bits of interest about the former Grand Hotel - this information comes from a 2010 edition of the Northampton Chronicle and Echo.
1889-1892: The hotel was originally built for the Northampton Brewery Company supposedly because it was thought it would be "Far too grand for Northampton".
1941: A Sterling bomber crashed in the middle of Gold Street, clipping the hotel.
1946: It was reported the hotel served between 1,600 to 2,000 meals a week and more than 400 teas.
1955: The Shah of Iran called into the hotel for coffee and biscuits while touring the Midlands looking for horses.
1963: The hotel was upgraded to a four star venue. Work included the creation of a grill room offering three course meals from 6s 6d. The restaurant's wallpaper included real butterflies.
May 1966, thieves stole two large safes form the hotel containing 347 in cash and cheques. They were found empty in Little Houghton the next day.
I have very vague memories of going into the Grand with my Uncle when his came up from London, but don't remember anything specific other than he wanted to go there because it was the best hotel in the town.
While I was wandering about I came across this, on the building which is now Turtle Bay, but which I believe was the headquarters building of a large Northampton brewery at one time.
With something equally ornate above it.
Going off at a tangent slightly if you love music get along to The Deco for this -
Carole King, one of the finest singer / songwriters, I'm booking my tickets today.
I've been trying to ween myself off Twitter, mostly because I find that the amount of negative stuff on there is not good for my state of mind, however amid all the name calling and other silly stuff there is always a few gems.
A few days ago I saw a tweet from a campaign group based in Northampton called "Save our Tree's Northampton", so reading on I found out that this group have started a campaign to bring back trees to Northampton's streets.
The number of street trees has seen a massive decline over the years, and the aim of the group is to not only reverse this and get tree's planted where none exist but also to protect existing trees, and they are working together with The Woodland Trust and Northamptons two Councils.
The twitter link for the group is @SaveStreetTrees
This whole subject was bought home to me earlier this year when Sheffield council decided in their infinite wisdom to chop down quite a number of healthy trees, a number of protesters were arrested, one unbelievably for blowing a plastic trumpet.
It seems we are not the only place to have short sighted councillors, thankfully people kicked up a fuss and the situation has been resolved but not before many trees were needlessly destroyed.
I took a walk into Wellingborough town centre from my work place earlier this week and although the road I was walking beside is busy thankfully the path I was on had trees on both sides.
What a difference those trees make, they provide shade, are great to look at, soak up pollutants in the air, and generally for me personally lift my spirit, why the hell would anyone want to chop down a healthy tree ?.
It's good to hear that both Northampton councils are involved with saveOutTrees and the Woodland Trust, I suspect the council would like to sell or rent the land where our old bus station once stood but if nothing is forthcoming ?.
Surely the site is a prime candidate for a park, even if only part of it was greened think of the benefits, but the problem we have is the existing culture where everything is seen only as a cost,
We need councillors at local level and politicians at a national level with the foresight to be able to see the very real benefits of improving our environment, its been proven that the quality of our environment has real cost saving potential.
In terms of both our mental and physical wellbeing we are storing up a whole world of sorrow if we not only recognise now the benefits but actually start putting things in place, with well thought out planting projects.
Depending on the time of day you can get some different scenes, when the sun sets is a good time to get some pictures.
So with the Cricket Summer nearly wrapped up and Northants CCC on the cusp of promotion I have mixed feelings, I would have prefered England to win back The Ashes rather than win the Word Cup but then hey ho.
On the whole I was disappointed with Englands performance, they seem to have lost the art of test batting, Ok there were a few standouts which saved us from complete humilation but on the whole not good.
I know we didn't have Anderson but the batsmen showed a lack of application, too many flash shots, too much limited overs mentality, on the plus side Broad did well, but we need to bring through more players of Test quality.
Joffra Archer was impressive and he really shook things up, lets hope he can play a part in the next Ashes series, maybe he he could be our new Tyson,
Ben Stokes, what can you say about his innings at Headingley, but rearguard actions are not good for my nerves.
Really when you boil the whole thing down without Smith Australia are a pretty average team, David Warner looked hopeless, it was touted that he was keen to make amends for his role in sandpapergate, he failed.
Marnus Labuschagne the concussion substiture for Steve Smith stood out for me, four 50's
to his name and a best score of 80 was impressive.
Steve Smith, it hurts me to say it but he is one great batsmen, whatever you think of his involvement with DIY products his skill can't be questioned.
I saw this in the one of the daily rags recently which interested me, the great Northants bowler Frank Tyson, he put the fear of God into the Aussie batsmen, we need some modern fast bowlers of his ilk coming through to take over from Anderson and Broad.
And now footage of Donald Bradman at Northants ground found in an attic.
Went out for a walk earlier and saw these Rosehips, seem rather large, wonder if this is a sign of a hard Winter coming up ?
And lot of bushes heavily laden with berries.
A new bench has been placed in our local park which I thought was really nice.
A few times this Summer I've been to The Saracens Head pub in Little Brington and as I've driven to the pub I've seen an old church on a corner which looked a bit worn and torn so I thought I'd drive back just to take a look.
When I'd set out from home it was sunny and bright, as I got to my destination the clouds rolled over, hence some of these pictures are not as sharp as I'd like them to be, but then in a strange way it made the church more atmospheric in that light.
A little bit of information about the church, it has a spire but no nave. The 4th Earl Spencer, Frederick Spencer, built the church of St John as a memorial to his wife, Elizabeth Poyntz whom he had married in 1830. The church was built for the convenience of villagers from Little Brington and Nobottle, who found it difficult to attend St. Mary’s in Great Brington.
Services were still held on a regular basis right up to the 19th and early 20th centuries.
By the 1940s, the church had fallen into a state of disrepair and the main body of the church was demolished in 1947.
And here is the really interesting bit, at the request of the Air Ministry, the tower with its octagonal spire was not knocked down, it had become a landmark to navigators and is still used for the same purpose today.
Northamptonshire housed a lot of air bases during WW11 used both by the Americans and the British, landmarks such as this must have been a great source of reassurance to airmen returning from raids.
I think we sometimes forget what a beautiful country we live in, there's a lot of pleasure in just driving out to a quiet spot and just taking in what surrounds you, something you probably only get to appreciate as you get a bit older.
Before we get into the latest news about the town centre consultation I'd like to show you some great sketches done by a lady called Jean,
This is her site, take a look she has some great stuff on here, and thank you Jean for letting me post these up on my site. All the sketches I have posted are of places in Northampton, but there's loads more to see on Jeans site.
I particularly like the one depicting Carlsberg and Abington Park which I'll be mentioning later on in this post.
So I was perusing Twitter earlier in the week and came across a tweet by the Chronicle & Echo which was reporting about and I quote "There is a perceived lack of cleanliness in the town centre". "Perceived poor street cleanliness putting people off visiting the town".
The article also mentioned that out of a population of over 200,000 people only just over 700 had responded to the Councils consultation laying out it's proposals for possible improvements.
The Council had said that they many people had responded positively to some of the ideas put forward, and this predictably drew a scathing response from some quarters.
As soon as the tweet went out some people on another very popular social media portal were saying that there should be no building on the towns historic market square as to do so would destroy its character etc.
Now correct me if I'm wrong but apathy is more often than not taken as consent, and if people felt so strongly they should have registered these feelings on the consultation website,
The article went on to say that footfall in the town centre had dropped by 700,000 on last year, a huge figure, and then expanded on this by asking the question "Is Rushden Lakes drawing people away" ?.
Well in my opinion the answer is yes, and it doesn't take long to work out why, what has Rushden Lakes got that our town centre hasn't ?.
Again an easy question to answer and that one visit will answer for you, its a complete no brainer.
Rushden Lakes is a relatively new development and was purpose built, it didn't evolve over a long period of time like the town centre and it has all the advantages that that brings.
Ok you have to drive to RL but once you arrive there is a huge amount of parking which is free for up to five hours, I'm not extolling the virtues of out of town shopping complexes just doing a contrast and compare before anyone gets their eco hat on.
With the amount of traffic generated that's really the last thing we need, putting more cars on the road is just increasing bad air quality, and it's becoming apparent that this will have dire consequences for our health in the not too distant future.
RL has a wide variety of shops, an M&S food hall, and lots of other nice food outlets which cater for nearly everybody, numerous clothes outlets, lots of good quality stuff on show and for sale, all in a nice clean environment, with the added bonus of the lakes as a backdrop.
Contrast this with our town centre which is full of charity shops and budget stores, and while I use charity shops myself I think a good town centre should have so much more if its going to be worth visiting, and above all the overall environment should be clean and safe.
When St Giles street was repaved the whole look and feel of the street was vastly improved and its probably the only street I would want to show anyone who was visiting the town from oversea's.
The success of RL is proof that there is still a call for shopping and proves that although a lot of shopping is done online that doesn't have to mean the death of the high street.
This being the case there must be lots of other factors such as the general environment and the perception of a relaxed and trouble free shopping experience that the town centre doesn't currently offer.
So to compete with the likes of RL our town centre has lots of catching up to do, a good example of where we are going wrong is an exchange of emails I had with Andrea Leadsom some yearsback when Gold Street had just been repaved.
The paving had been done well and I believe a lot of money had been spent to get it looking good again, but within a few days chewing gum was being spat out and being trodden into the new paving stones.
When the paving was laid common sense would dictate the asking the question "why don't we put something protective substance onto the stone to make cleaning them off a lot easier" ?, apparently that hadn't been done.
I emailed Andrea Leadsom and asked why as money had been spent why hadn't that investment been protected, I can't remember the exact reply she gave but it didn't inspire me to feel that our town was being well served.
Going back to the perception that the town centre is dirty, do you remember when Veolia won the contract for street cleansing and recycling in Northampton ?
I seem to recall certain pledges being made, one being that they would carry out a deep clean in the town centre, did that ever happen ? does anyone recall a particularly bad area that was cleaned up ?.
Here is what Veolia said at the time -
"We are very pleased to have been given the opportunity to improve the local environment for the communities in Northampton".
"Street cleansing will focus on improving standards across the borough and the grounds maintenance service will deal with all area's of public open space with particular attention on Northampton's premier park in Abington.
So I thought I'd take a look at Abington Park one evening after work, here's what I saw.
Over the years the park has won awards and walking around it in the early evening light it was easy to see why.
I was generally impressed with how clean and litter free it was, there was some litter but given it the school holidays and the park is being heavily used by parents with their children I though it looked pretty clean.
When I was young there as a boating lake and some nice gardens, those sadly have disappeared, well not strictly true, the lake is there but no boats, the gardens are there but no longer looked after and planted out.
Probably a cost cutting measure but for all that the park is a lovely place just to walk around, or visit the aviary and look at the birds, which kids loved when I was young and still seem to.
Abington Park is still somewhere I would take a visitor from overseas which is something I couldn't in all honesty say about some parts of the town, When you see a park and all those glorious trees and wildlife it lifts you up.
That above all is what we all need, we need to be inspired, uplifted and be able to see nature in the heart of our towns, I hope the Council will make use of the empty site of the old bus station and if greened that would be a massive improvement to the town generally.
It would help cut pollution, and give people somewhere pleasant to sit and contemplate what a great town Northampton is for all its faults, the people of the town deserve no less.
What a week that was, a week of extremes in many ways, we now have a new Prime Minister who has been selecting his cabinet ministers, we have had weather like I can't remember, and this was how I came to meet Betty, more of which later.
But first behold my chiili plant which has at last started to produce some bambino chilli's, for weeks it seemed to languish in a state of coma, giving no indication it would produce the goods for me. Now the recent sun and rain seems to have kickstarted it into life, and this simple thing has made me happy, which is what my Wife says about me to her friends.
Oh and while we're on the subject of extremes, before I forget we're now on the cusp of another Ashes series at the concusion of which I will either be elated or very downhearted.
Just like my chilli plant the England players need to produce the goods, as usual I'm anticipating a good result, I'll give you my thoughts as the series progresses.
As well as the chilli the Verbascum which has evolved over the Summer has just flowered, its been great watching it grow and the bee's seem to love it, a very large and unusual plant.
The picture above is the core of the plant and looks like something out of a Sci Fi film, and below the plant produced these lovely flowers some weeks back on the tendrils that grew away from the core of the plant.
The bee's really liked these and I managed to get a few decent pictures, taken with my Sony HDR-CX405.
My Sunflowers are now thriving as well, after a dodgy start when one of them was dug up by a cat taking a crap in the soft earth I'd planted it in, I ask you you what an undignified way to go, dug up and shat upon, poor little thing.
A rather large slug took a liking to one of them and that was duly dispatched over the back fence like a duke being hit for six.
My garden is in stark contrast to my neightbours whose lawn looks like a particularly well kept bowling green and where everything is pruned to the nth degree, that's fine but I prefer the slightly wilder look.
Anyway back to how I met Betty, the date was 25/07/2019, this Thursday just gone, I was told I needed to go to London to attend a work related user group meeting, in fact I had to attend two, one in central london on the Thursday, and the other in Hatfield on the Friday.
So together with a colleague who was also going I booked a hotel, somewhere within an easy commute of both locations, so me and him drove down on the Wednesday evening to the Ramada at South Mimms services.
I know what you're thinking and you're right, in a bloody services, well things were about to get interesting, I'm not a cheapskate but I'm restricted on cost you understand, of course you do.
We checked in and I went up to my room, no air con, and it was warm, very warm, so down I popped to reception, which was nice and cool, and asked "do you have a fan", "ah" the young lady said, "I'll have a look for you but I can't guarentee anything", "Ok" I say. and go back to my room.
Five minutes later a knock at the door, a young lady stands in front of me with a a fan, well in better times it had been a fan, now it looked like something that had been pulled out of a skip.
The back cover which hides the electrics that power the fan was missing, the stand was at a 45 degree angle, and the blades had what appeared to be black mould on them, she plugged it in, it didn't work.
"" I'll go and find another one" she said and disappeared to return five minutes later with what looked like a nice clean serviceable fan, and it worked, thank god I thought, otherwise I would have cooked like a medium sized chicken in that room.
The windows were open so I took a look outside,
Not the best view, ah but at least breakfast was included in the cost of the overpriced room, although when we asked at reception we were told, "I can't see any sign of breakfast being included on your booking", "bloody hell" I thought.
My colleague later questioned this and came back with two coupons for a breakfast at the Harry Ramsdens in the services area which would have cosy us 8 quid each, welcome to rip off UK.
After a night of little sleep with the fan droning away in the background Thursday morning dawned and off we trotted to fortify ouselves for the upcoming day, well all I can say is it was interesting, if I'd been charged 8 quid for that I would have been pretty pissed off.
Funnily enough my colleagure had read some reviews left by pevious guests and one comment was "for the love of God don't have the breakfast".
There were lots of very young Chinese people staying in the hotel and they had been queuing in front of us to get their food, when we left after having ours we noticed all these breakfasts still completely untouched on the tables,
I hope they didn't think that's the best we have to offer, they may never come back.
My colleagure got a ground floor room with a broken window lock and which was opposite the area where the smokers fill their lungs with various toxins, and the smoke was wafting into his room, oh and no fan either.
He asked to change rooms which they did only to give him a room which still stank of smoke and but at least had not one, but two fans, two fans, to say I was envious is an understatement.
I later took the view he needed at least one of those fans to redirect cigarette smoke back out of the windows.
After feasting on a what was described as a traditional English breakfast, we made our way to Potters Bar train station, a gentle walk of 40 minutes in the coolest part of the day, this involved walking through a nature reserve at the back of the Hotel which was actually quite nice.
Arriving at the station things were now starting to warm up, I hope the train is air conditioned was my one and only thought, when it did turn up it was obviously old rolling stock and no air con.
When you watch people who obviously commute regularly by train you can see in their eyes that with each journey they take a part of their soul dies, they have that blank, resigned sort of look,
We arrived at Finsbury Park and here we had to get on the underground to travel to Victoria, this was the bit I'd been dreading, under normal circumstances I like using the tube, but today it was going to be warmer than a pair of testicles trussed up in a pair of 1970's bri-nylon underpants.
If people on the overground appear half dead then those forced to use the tube on a hot day resemble animated cadavers, with all the seething resentent of vampires forced to live forever in a state of unrest.
With each station we arrived at I ticked off one less to go before we got to our destination, and when we did I was glad we were now near to our final destination which I knew would be air conditioned, whether I would be in any fit state to take in any information was another matter.
I'm sticking in this random image of beer girls at the Adelaide Oval during an Autralia England test match just to cheer myself up, the girls escort you back to your seat with your beer, I didn't avail myself of this service but many testerone filled yound lads did.
If you are a cricket fan and find yourself in Australia the Adelaide Oval is a lovely place to visit.
Below I can be seen with a cock on my shoulder, and it has to be said a bit of a belly, this is beer related nothing to do with eating too much chicken, this is in France, it has to be in France where else could you get a cock so well behaved ?.
Here sans belly and ready to dine at a lovely place in the South of France, I love France, the food and wine, food wise you can't beat a good cassoulet, washed down with a red, it's bloody nirvava I tell you.