Dateline: 18 August 2011
The Bloxidge Tallygraph will be undergoing major changes in the next few months, and in order to give me time to do that I have to announce today that there will be no further updates from the end of this week until those changes have been completed.
This has come about because I have decided, for reasons of economy, efficiency, time-saving and technical improvements, to move the Tallygraph over to Wordpress.
Wordpress.com is basically free, which webs.com certainly isn’t! Costs are continually going up and the site has now expanded to the point where I can no longer spare the cash to keep it going in its present form due to present pay freezes and future wage cuts at my place of employment.
It will not be possible to retain the present look and feel of The Bloxidge Tallygraph under the new system, and some of the older, little-used features of the Tallygraph will have to go, but despite this there are many technical and time-saving advantages, and I am sure that when the new site goes live it will be able to offer a better, more responsive and more integrated service to the community.
Our readers may or may not be aware that the original Bloxidge Tallygraph, which dates from 1874, itself underwent a major transformation in later years, and by January 1886 it had been reborn as The Bloxwich Telegraph, which although no longer presented in Black Country dialect, was even more of a rabble-rouser for the village than its predecessor!
I have decided, therefore, to follow the lead of this modern Bloxidge Tallygraph’s illustrious predecessors, and our new-look, Wordpress-based publication will in due course be re-launched and henceforth be known as The Bloxwich Telegraph.
If nothing else, this will mean that the old folk of Bloxwich will at long last be able to retain their false teeth while speaking its name…
Meanwhile, please continue to follow our progress via Twiiter, where the relaunch will eventually be annunced: http://twitter.com/TheTallygraph
Stuart Williams, Edditer
The Bloxidge Tallygraph
Dateline: 26 April 2011
There’s a prevailing mood in England these days that voting in local and indeed national elections is a waste of time. That our democratic process is no longer relevant, and the more things change, the more they remain the same.
For those who find little merit in the “big three” political parties - Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat, all of whom have a pretty poor post-war record nationally - that might well be fair comment. Votes for other parties are effectively wasted under the present system.
Those who allege that political boundaries have been ‘fiddled’ to benefit one party or another over the decades, making it difficult or impossible for political change to happen, may also have a point.
A change to the voting system for MPs, to Alternative Vote instead of 'first past the post', as it is now, might make a difference in the ability to make all of our votes count more fairly. Will we get that? Only time, and the forthcoming referendum, will tell.
But the essence of the matter is surely that if you don’t go out and vote, whatever the system, you will certainly have no say, and can hardly complain if government - local and national - are set free to do untold damage to our lives, whether from ideology or incompetence, on the basis of a tiny mandate, an unrepresentative one, or none.
The imminent local government elections, which take place on 5 May, certainly offer an opportunity to express your democratic opinion on how well you feel both local and national government have done since the last election. While this is not a general election (MPs are not affected, and there is no imminent prospect of change in national government) it is only to be expected that the local electorate will be interested in delivering a verdict on national government through their local votes. And that verdict is certainly capable of affecting national policy.
But the main effect of the local government elections will of course be on the local authority - in our case, Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council. And the chances are, if the electorate can be coaxed away from their plasma TVs for a little while, that they will be minded to deliver a stinging slap to the body politic now that it is becoming clear just how bad things are in the nation, and how much worse they will inevitably become if the political incumbents are left to get on with their destructive policies which have already resulted in a rushed, ill-considered and destructive slash-and-burn approach to cuts in local government, local services, local healthcare, local policing - and local society.
So, how are the forthcoming local elections likely to affect Walsall politics? Well, it’s a little complicated by the fact that not all councillors are up for re-election, and many who are will be able to count on local loyalties as well as political affiliations, which can work either way. A lot of people will inevitably vote the way they have always done, especially in affluent parts of the borough. Because of this, if current predictions are borne out, there may well be no simple majority for one party, and the council could return to its previous status of no overall control, with the Liberal Democrats probably scrambling to do a deal with whoever holds the largest humber of seats.
It’s not impossible, of course, for Labour to gain a majority, but it would take a significant swing in the vote to make that a reality, and that’s probably only going to be possible if Walsall Labour show a lot more fire than they have in recent years, and if the Walsall LibDems are wiped out by a swing to Labour in revenge for their party’s betraying its principles and letting the Conservatives run rampant nationally. In some wards, Conservatives may well be quaking in their posh boots, and the back-stabbing and jockeying for ‘safe’ seats has already begun.
How should YOU vote? Well that’s obviously a matter for your own conscience, and your personal relationship with your local councillor as well as your political leanings, if you have any, will have a bearing, as well as your views on the past record of local government in our borough, and the policies of the coalition government in power nationally.
But consider this. Voting for the status quo is going to give the present administration, both local and national, your explicit permission for more ideologically-motivated destruction, more unemployment, more savage cuts to services without cuts to taxation, the closure or privatisation of libraries, untold damage to our armed forces and our national health service, less policing and much less support for those most vulnerable in our society.
Do you really want that? Time to stand up and be counted.
Permanent story link here.
Dateline: 28 February 2011
Today is the end of an era. Walsall's first, and so far only, online news aggregator - TheYamYam.com - is closing its curtains, shutting its doors, giving up the ghost and turning a proverbial Norwegian Blue.
And while this may not perhaps seem a matter of such moment as when the near-150 year history of the dear old Walsall Observer was callously screwed up and thrown away like so much chip paper a couple of years ago, 28 February 2011 does have some of the feel of the dark day when that sad demise was announced.
When The Yam Yam's website arrived on the scene, things looked up considerably for local news in Walsall. The Obbo was on its way out, the Express & Star was getting ready to flog off its expensive new Walsall offices and decamp to Wolverhampton and West Brom, and the Advertiser had never really been a Walsall paper in the first place.
And while The Yam Yam - named apparently after the entertaining Walsall accent which falls somewhere between Brummie and Gornal Gob - was always going to find it difficult to compete for advertising on the same level as the "dead wood" press at a time in the economy when even the mighty were falling to the sound of "Timbeerrr!"- it did show great promise from the start, thanks to the undoubted skills of the highly professional journalist at the helm - one Mark Blackstock.
The Yam Yam and its ever-energetic editor and publisher were of course trying to do something completely new in Walsall - bringing the product of the established professionals together with local comment and news from the fledgling force of borough bloggers and "citizen journaists", many of whom who were then taking their first faltering steps in the field.
The Yam Yam wove its digital magic primarily by collecting all the links to local news stories from literally dozens of websites and as many stories, every day. To these were added the often impassioned, and usually reasoned, rants from local bloggers, some of whom seemed to sprout almost as a result of the fertile ground newly broken by The Yam Yam.
It was of course a symbiotic relationship: the bloggers offered content and comment - some of it controversial, but always passionate - of a kind which you would never find in a conventional newspaper. And they received in return significantly enhanced exposure through the pages of The Yam Yam, which made a massive difference to hits on their sites whenever a story was featured therein. And many of the bloggers became friends and supporters - albeit often virtually rather than in person - of Mark and his high-tech baby.
The Yam Yam was of course not really competing with the "local" rags - it was actually feeding more and more visitors to their often obscure websites, which although improved, to this day offer far less news content than can be found on their paper pages. So far from taking the bread out of the mouths of the pros, The Yam Yam was actually feeding them much-needed traffic that can only have enhanced their readership.
Whatever, as time went by, the site wove a rich tapestry of links both to hard news from the pros and to "hyperlocal" news and comment from the bloggers and others. Much more was added over time, including references to relevant national stories, local information, background infomation, and occasionally original editorial.
It must have been an enormous amount of work for Mark, including as well as seeking out news etc, finding suitable thumbnail illustrations, doing the layout, linking, coding, chasing advertising etc etc - though he had some editorial assistance later on. And to a degree it paid off. By the end of the first year, The Yam Yam had become the first port of call for local news online, a massive popular success both technically and editorially, and some progress had been made in attracting advertising.
But sadly, it seems this was not enough to make it a business which was sufficiently viable for one person to be working on it full time every day, at least not at this stage, and in this economic climate. A man cannot live on words alone, and on 16 February this year the sad announcement was issued by Mark: "The Yam Yam's gooin' away". The end was near.
For a little while it seemed there might be some alternative to turning off the digital presses at The Yam Yam, but today that possibility seems distant, and the last day of The Yam Yam is upon us.
Is it really the end? We cannot entirely be sure, and I think if some adventurous, future-minded white knight were to ride up with a wad of wonga to invest I think even Mark might be persuaded to do a u-turn. We live in hope, but this is still a day tinged with sadness and the echoes of that eternal question, "What if?"
All I can do at the end is to pay tribute to the publication and the man on a personal basis. The Bloxidge Tallygraph was well-established when Mark Blackstock rode into town, but the power of The Yam Yam has made a huge difference in raising our profile in just two short years. Whenever a Tallygraph tale has featured in the pages of The Yam Yam, hits on Bloxwich's own digital rag have shot up in leaps and bounds, and that is gratifying. We may not get paid for it, but the satisfaction of seeing our work read by a wider public is immense, and on many occasions we have had The Yam Yam to thank for it.
What of the future? Really, who can tell. The local blogging scene is more mature now, as is that on Twitter, and in some areas there seems more interest in not just comment but reporting local news. We can certainly continue to make progress in Walsall's blogosphere and hyperlocal news network without The Yam Yam, but it will be harder to dig up good Walsall stories online, and a far less enjoyable task without the able assistance of Mark and his most Walsallian of websites.
So long, The Yam Yam - and thanks for all the good news, and the bad. The light's gone out in Walsall's digital newsroom.
Permanent story link here.
Bloxwich Library, 1969. Happy days!
Dateline: 16 January 2010
On Saturday, I gave a talk on the history of Bloxwich libraries. And for me, it was a surprisingly emotional experience, because in researching the talk I not only looked back across a remarkable era of the expansion of literary provision in Bloxwich and in Walsall, but also recalled the years of my youth when the local library was my second home.
Did you know that the first free branch library in Walsall was opened in Bloxwich in 1874? And that it still exists as the Memorial Club in Harrison Street? Or that the second and third Bloxwich Police Stations were combined with public libraries? Or that the third Bloxwich Library, once located on the Pinfold where the health centre now is, was converted from two sheds previously used as a wartime ARP First Aid post? Truly, Bloxwich has had a long and honourable association with literature and libraries.
Throughout the 1960s-70s, my parents strongly encouraged me to read as many books as I could lay my hands on, at first with their help and later on my own initiative, something for which I am eternally grateful. We lived, during my years at primary school, in Blakenall Heath, and later on Lower Farm Estate, Little Bloxwich. Because we were ‘working class’ - something I am still proud to call myself today - and dad worked for the Council as a ‘bin man’, we had very little spare cash, and for many years buying expensive books was out of the question.
So inevitably I spent many happy hours in the ultra-modern Bloxwich Library, and when I ran out of science fiction to read I would trek on foot to Coalpool Library, which had been built just a few years before the Bloxwich branch and still had the quiet, heavy atmosphere of a past generation; my strongest memory of the Coalpool branch is the silence, the slow, sonorous ticking of the clock on the wall, and the rows of dark wood shelves packed with wonders which were available to all in exchange for little rectangles of card which cost nothing but promised riches beyond price.
Bloxwich Library, opened in September 1960, was a very different place. Light, bright and airy, and state-of-the-art for the time, it was open plan, had high windows and - amazingly - a fish tank on one wall! I recall peering with fascination into that dark tank on many occasions, and wondering what the little fishes thought of their life in the library. The serried ranks of twenty thousand books covering the walls and packed tightly on free-standing light oak shelves invited an endless process of exploration in fact or fiction.
The substantial reference section was crammed with current information which in the days before personal computers meant encyclopaedias, dictionaries, thesaurii, technical and text books and directories. There was also the latest innovation of “study carrels”, one-person desks separated each from the next by wooden panels. Each carrel had a chair so that young students like myself could take a book and engage in quiet study in splendid isolation while the busy life of the modern library whirled around us. This was a new facility of which Walsall was particularly proud, and something which was also put in place at the Central Library.
There was actually a teenage section at Bloxwich Library, something which had been trialled successfully at Central, and which I appreciated later on. Though perhaps the current generation of teenagers might be less interested than I was, with their obsession with fictional “vampire romance” denoted by the current section labeled “Blood Lust” on the teenage shelves at Bloxwich! If they were to read Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ as I first did all those years ago, they might not be quite so keen…
Mind you, the days of my youth were not perfect, they never are for anyone, and beyond the joys of reading, the pressures of school work and of growing up, and the hot, never-ending summer holidays, reflections of which have stayed with me all these years, one of the most powerful and unpleasant memories of the 1960s which has burned itself into my mind is the terrifying nightmares I had of atomic war. Thank common sense, despite all the preparations for “Mutually Assured Destruction”, the missiles never flew, the atom bombs never fell, and uneasy peace, of a sort, reigned all through those days until decades later it became clear that no-one was really stupid enough to push “the button”. Humanity might well commit suicide one day, but it was unlikely to be by any method so patently stupid as nuclear war.
Doing picture research for my talk on Saturday, I discovered a 1969 photograph of the interior of Bloxwich Library in an old Walsall Town Guide. It brought back many happy memories and powerfully dispelled comments about gloomy, dilapidated 1950s libraries so often found in press releases about Bloxwich Library before its recent refurbishment. Bloxwich Library was never such. It was instead a place of light, learning and the love of reading.
Then, as today, the staff were warm, welcoming, friendly and helpful to a fault. There were no computers, just good, old-fashioned - and simple to use - card indexes, and thanks to the sterling efforts of the librarians in keeping up with shelf sorting and cataloguing it was always easy to find a desired book, or to request it for next time. In 1969, Bloxwich had its wonderful library, the borough was traversed by amazing eco-friendly electric trolleybuses and NASA was landing men on the Moon. The future was bright - but it certainly wasn’t “orange” - the pocket “communicator” as yet being the stuff of ‘Star Trek!’
That 1969 guide spoke proudly of all the services which Walsall Council provided for the County Borough’s residents. A wide variety of schools of a myriad types (I was later to become a student at one of the first Comprehensives, the mighty T.P. Riley!); the police and fire services; social services, and help for the aged; engineering and town planning; swimming baths; council housing; public transport, and of course libraries and museums. It is sad to reflect on how much of that has been taken away from local control as a result of the political insanities and inanities of the Thatcher years and since.
Things change, lives change, and times change, of course, sometimes for the better, sometimes not so much. Today, Walsall Libraries are still a real jewel in the crown of the borough, and yet, like so many across the nation, they are unnecessarily threatened with destruction by the incompetence of the previous government and by the arrogance of the present. No government that has a cabinet of millionaires at the helm can have any real concept of what public libraries mean to those of us who live in the real world. They all have big houses with their own libraries, and probably never read any of the books there. They are too busy playing dice with the lives of working people.
In Walsall, it is claimed, at least six libraries are now at risk due to the prospect of cuts to Council funding; the number is yet uncertain. Just one library lost would be too many. They are too important to the lives of local people, both as educational and leisure facilities and as the last remaining centres of community that are free for all. The destruction of our libraries, couched as it may be by some in “fair” and “progressive” terms, can never be right. The time is now for the people to take a stand against this mad national act of cultural and educational vandalism which will damage so many futures.
Across the nation, Britain’s public libraries, at least four hundred of which face closure, and possibly double that many, are about to become the focus of bitter political battles and legal action as users fight to prevent mass closures. In Walsall, the local bloggers - and a group of churches - are already standing tall in the fight, saying this far, and no more, in no uncertain terms. Now the people at large, the voters and the users of our public services, the employers of the politicians who so often take them and their votes for granted, need to stand up as well, both for what they may lose, and for what their children may never know.
Campaigners amongst the nation’s literati, including Joanna Trollope, Philip Pullman and Tony Christie, are demanding a public inquiry into the cuts which they say amount to an attack on Britain's cultural and knowledge base. These facts are undeniable.
The bonkers suggestion of the government is to replace trained, professional library staff with volunteers. They seem unaware that the professional operation of a library as a gateway to information, education and improved life chances requires more than just bunging a few out-of-date books (and they will be, for there will be no new stock bought) on a shelf and letting them gather dust.
David Cameron's “Big Society philosophy” (for which read “mug the public into doing the work for which they have already paid heavily”, includes giving communities the “right to bid” to take over state-run services. With what funding? There is none, or our services would not be cut so savagely. Experts say that politicians have failed to understand the social, cultural and educational importance of libraries, and the role librarians play in providing services. But it is quite abundantly clear that not only do they understand all this, but that they quite simply don’t care. And so they have begun their "war on words".
I for one am not sure I want to live in a Britain which on the one hand can apparently afford to build and seriously contemplate using insanely expensive, morally insupportable and strategically pointless weapons of mass destruction such as Trident’s nuclear “deterrent” but which on the other hand seems hell-bent on privatising education and health care and decimating both our library services and our cultural heritage. But why should the powers that be worry? After all, it is only the poor and the working classes who will suffer, and it’s not wise to give the ‘commoners’ access to too many big ideas anyway, is it? They might try to better themselves and get above their station.
Annie Mauger, chief executive of Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), has said: "This is not just about what libraries do, it is about what they represent: free access to knowledge and information for everyone. It feels Orwellian that we'll wake up one day and a third of all the libraries are gone. Is that the type of society we want?"
No, it isn’t. And it is time to say so in no uncertain terms. Enough is enough. I no longer have nightmares about Russian bombs, but I very much fear that we are entering a political and cultural nightmare from which there may be no waking.
The local government elections will take place in May of this year. I have yet to decide which way to vote, or indeed whether I will abandon my vote in protest for the first time in my adult life, in disgust at what this country is coming to. Whichever way, the fate of our much-loved libraries will be foremost in my mind when the time comes to place the fateful ‘X’.
Permanent story link here.
Dateline: 6 December 2010
It is my usual habit at this time of year to turn on the Christmas muzak (hello, Noddy!), decant the Bloxidge Brandy, pile up the mince pies, put my feet up in front of the satellite TV and cast an eye back over the past twelve months, and forward to the New Year. In that respect, this Edditorial is no different.
What is different this Christmas, sadly, is that it is hard to be 100% positive about the year that is to come. The responsibility for this I have to lay squarely at the door of Goverment. But let us set that aside for the moment.
In the past year, I have had the considerable privilege of getting to meet many more of my fellow denizens of Bloxwich and seeing them at their best: serving the community, enjoying the good things about where we live, and trying to improve those things that could be better. No place is perfect, and like any other village, Bloxwich has its problems, whether they be economic, social - or governmental. We live in difficult times. But there is still much to celebrate and enjoy about our home, and to my mind, it’s still the best place in the borough by far.
These days, when beating the bounds of Bloxwich I often come across readers of The Bloxidge Tallygraph, as well as those who have not yet read this scurrilous rag, but who have heard of it. I hope those latter folk, and more, will soon come to find this publication useful, and hopefully enjoyable. I’ve done my best, time permitting, to pack it with as many useful things as I can think of - very likely you can think of others, if so, please do get in touch via the contact page! Of course there will be more to come in 2011; I’m particularly keen to do more local history, more on culture and more for local business. Watch this space!
Looking back, though, if I were to choose just a few highlights of the year, these would certainly for me include being more closely involved with Bloxwich Carnival, this year as a member of the committee, tasked with contributing to the text of the official programme, and in addition providing online publicity and photography as I have done since the launch of the Tallygraph in 2006. I’ve seen first hand how much unsung effort goes into this event and the other events which precede it such as the Old Folks Party and the Queen Choosing, as well as how much pleasure all these things give to local people of all ages. The people who revived, run and contribute to the work of the carnival deserve all our heartiest thanks; life in Bloxwich would be much diminished without it, and of course without the presence of the Pat Collins funfair, with its echoes of Bloxwich past, which complements the carnival so well each year.
As a result of my association with Bloxwich Carnival, I’ve also made the very welcome acquaintance of Bloxwich Phoenix Rotary Club, a fine, hard-working charitable group which also, I am glad to say, has a very friendly face and a great sense of humour. Wherever there is good work to be done, the ‘Phoenix mafia’ are there, whether it be helping with Bloxwich Carnival, engaging in numerous charitable activities or promoting the Christmas spirit, handing out mulled wine and mince pies on the Christmas market and running Santa Claus around the local estates in his sleigh. Thanks folks, Christmas in Bloxwich just wouldn’t be the same without the Rotary!
Another highlight of 2010 has been the revivification of the dear old Bloxwich Fountain in Promenade Gardens, a process which has had its ups and downs, and its controversial moments, but which has come good in the end. Considering the chequered history of that iconic Victorian bird-bath, it is a wonder it has survived at all, as a 1982 photograph which recently came to light illustrates, showing the pool filled in with earth and the fountain abandoned to rust! A lot of work was put into that project this year and last, by Walsall Council officers, by project partners and instigators the Friends of Bloxwich Parks, and by the contractors, and the eventual, if rather protracted, outcome has been positive. I’ve spent a lot of time following the fountain’s progress in the past year and before, and it’s been an interesting if bumpy ride. But it has also been great to see Bloxwich receiving the kind support of the Mayor in ‘reopening’ the fountain and on other occasions. All’s well that ends well - I hope!
Since the summer, I’ve also had the considerable pleasure of meeting and getting to know the very active and sociable senior citizens of Benton’s Sons of Rest club, which has been serving retired local men (and latterly, women!) for many decades. Their lodge in Bealey’s Lane has been a reassuring and friendly fixture on the edge of King George V Playing Fields since 1938, and after an invitation to go along and meet the members, I wrote the first of our Community Profiles, revealing an important side of Bloxwich life of which many may not be aware. They really are a great bunch of people, and it was an unexpected and genuine privilege to be invited to attend their annual dinner to give their sports prizes in November. While not quite ready to retire just yet, I hope to have the pleasure of visiting ‘Benton’s’ again in the New Year.
An extremely positive development for Bloxwich over the last year, which has recently come to notable fruition with the village’s first ‘Sparkle into a Bloxwich Christmas’ festivities on 27 November, has been the reformation and rise of what is now known as the Bloxwich Business Partnership. While that has had its own difficulties at first in overcoming a degree of apathy, plus the recent budget cuts which have sadly required the dropping of previous coverage for Leamore and Blakenall Heath, one cannot but admire the support given to Bloxwich in so many ways through this Council-supported organisation. That has been in no small part due to the non-stop efforts of Nikki Rolls of District Centre Management in bringing businesses, organisations and individuals together in a positive way which has made a real difference.
Finally, one of the most important things to happen in Bloxwich which I have the chance to follow, both from the inside (thanks to my day job and my membership of Bloxwich Library Forum) and from the outside as Edditer of The Bloxidge Tallygraph, has been the rebuilding and renewal of Bloxwich Library and the associated Library Theatre, now conjoined with an excellent new cafe. What a great opportunity for the people of Bloxwich - to bring what was built as a state-of-the-art 1960s facility into the 21st century, giving us back the best combined cultural, literary and community complex in the borough! I know how much hard work has gone into this project all round, and how much goodwill there is toward the library and its wonderful staff. The results have been remarkable, despite unexpected cuts to the theatre and book budgets and the temporary loss of the pantomime. If only this project can be moved forward in the new year as it truly deserves - and I believe it can, with hard work and lateral thinking - then Bloxwich will be truly fortunate.
All that I have referred to above, and much more which goes on in the village, will certainly have positive echoes in 2011, and people of Bloxwich and district will continue to do many good things in and for the community over the next twelve months.
But there is, sadly, a dark cloud looming on the horizon for the coming year and beyond, to which I must inevitably refer: the draconian budget cuts being imposed by the Con-Dem Coalition Government and subsequently being planned by Walsall Council for imposition upon public services across the borough. Locally (and this will also be reflected elsewhere in the borough), these cuts will have severe consequences for Bloxwich and district if allowed to go ahead unchecked or unaltered.
It is entirely possible, for example, that locally we could see the closure of our smaller branch libraries on Beechdale and at Blakenall Heath, together with the loss of many jobs. This would seriously affect the educational opportunities of young people in particular, but would also affect all of those who cannot afford to buy books or access the internet, of which there are many in the district. Not to mention the many dedicated Council staff who may unnecessarily lose their livelihoods through no fault of their own. And both Walsall Museums and Walsall Local History Centre will also inevitably be severely affected, again with both redundancies and significant service reductions as a result. These are serious matters, involving irreparable damage to Bloxwich, and to Walsall borough overall.
May I take this opportunity to commend to you the petition and letter-writing campaign against the cuts in general which has been organised by local charity 'Churches together in Walsall', details of which may be found via this link on the blog of The Bookworm. Please join the campaign - and also write to your local Councillor. If you want to keep your local libraries, and much else besides, the stroke of a pen is surely worth the effort. May I also recommend that you give libraries in particular the fullest possible support: they need you now more than ever before. Use them - or lose them…
In conclusion, I hope much that is good and positive will still come to pass in 2011, but it will have to be worked for, and strived for, and sometimes battled for. An ugly, hypocritical Scrooge is stalking the land this Christmas, wearing a blue and yellow tie, and he will need a stern warning to redeem him. I hope you will join in giving him that warning.
I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year. See you around in Bloxwich!
Permanent story link here.
Dateline: 14 November 2010
Remembrance Sunday is about just that - remembering.
Remembering the fallen in battle, and those killed on the home front of two world wars, and in too many other conflicts, right up to the present day.
Remembering those who served then, now and tomorrow. Remembering those whose lives were shattered, or ended, at home, in the field and in other nations as well. Remembering friends and relatives who are no longer with us. Remembering those who still need our help.
When I prepared to attend today’s Remembrance Sunday parade and service in Bloxwich, I went to a drawer and pulled out a medal. My late father’s General Service or ‘Queen’s Medal’, a shiny silver disc stamped with queen Elizabeth II on the obverse and a figure of ‘Winged Victory’ on the reverse, and hung from a purple and green ribbon surmounted by a clasp embossed with ‘Canal Zone’.
Suez. An almost forgotten, ill-conceived war, relegated by hypocritical governments to limbo for decades. Yet, then as now, our soldiers, sailors and airmen went where they were told, and did their duty, as they always do, and suffered for it. Does that sound familiar to modern readers?
Dad was conscripted for National Service in 1953 and served in the 1st Battalion, the South Staffordshire Regiment.
Part of a battalion of regulars, he trained to serve this nation in Britain and Germany before being shipped out to Egypt on that ill-fated mission later swept under the carpet by humiliated politicians and since described, if it were referred to at all, simply as a ‘police action’.
While he did not have to suffer the hell which those warriors of the Great War and the Second World War who defended us from evil on the ground, on and below the waves, and in the air, were subjected to, Suez was still a dangerous place to serve. Like those who went before him, he was prepared to lay down his life for queen and country - and to suffer the bullshit, blanco and boredom of army routine which every soldier recognises! Out there in the Egyptian desert, there were no easy times.
Dad did his National Service duty, thankfully survived, and returned a changed man, a proud man, a more thoughtful man, a man of strong character yet still young. Something I did not always appreciate when I myself was much younger than I am now. All teenagers want their freedom. Maybe too much of it. But at that age we never think of how hard that freedom has been bought, and at what price. We never think that one day we may also have to fight. And war is not a video game.
Decades later, after many years of turning a deaf ear and trying to ignore the campaigning of veterans and their supporters, the government of this supposedly United Kingdom finally relented, at long last let a few stingy moths out of the national wallet and grudgingly issued the general service medal for Suez - the ‘Canal Zone’.
My father was so proud the day his medal came in the post. He was too ill to travel to a presentation ceremony, so I presented it to him, and if anything, at that moment I was more proud than he. I scanned up and framed his portrait photos, taken as a young lad off to join the British Army, and hung them on the wall beside his Certificate of National Service. I also added, in a box frame, a carefully collected Staffords cap badge, shoulder insignia and a postcard of the entrance to the Suez Canal at Port Said. You should have seen the look on his face, as the years fell away. I couldn’t say anything, but he knew what I felt.
That day brought us much closer together than we had ever been, we had not always seen eye to eye in the past, but now were in step in more ways than one. In 2008 he died, after a hard life in the mines, in industry, and finally working as a Walsall Council binman, which shattered his health. For many years he was disabled, but always tried to make the most of his life. He was a fighter.
Dad was not served well by the medical profession of this nation in his final year, and that left a sad, bittersweet taste in my mouth. But I still had his memories, and mine.
Dad hadn’t died in war, but he had done his duty as so many had done before, and since. Many were not so lucky as he, and never came back or were maimed or damaged mentally beyond repair. Their memories are different to mine, as are their families, but we all remember.
Today I made a promise to myself. Next year, on Remembrance Sunday, I will wear his Canal Zone medal proudly on my right breast, and join the parade through Bloxwich to the War Memorial. I won’t take as many photos for The Bloxidge Tallygraph, but I will remember.
Rest in peace all you soldiers, sailors, airmen and people of this nation who have died as a result of conflict, whether it be total war, peace keeping, humanitarian service or ‘police action’.
Rest in peace Albert E. Williams, Service Number 22920996. Private Soldier of the Queen, 1953-1955.
Nothing’s forgotten. Nothing’s ever forgotten.
Permanent story link here.
Dateline: 24 July 2010
Walsall Metropolitan Borough is an interesting place, with an ancient history. But what it isn’t is a single town, village, hamlet or settlement. In no way can it be regarded as a homogenised, pasteurised, googleised, fuzzy blob on the map that describes all of the people, their homes and their heritage within what is really just an administrative boundary.
The open spaces, even rural in many cases, which have been filled in across the area by urban spread during the 1920s and later, have made it look on the map as if Walsall is just one, big mixed-up community, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Indeed, if you ask most people outside central Walsall, in Aldridge, Brownhills, Leamore, Blakenall Heath, Harden, Goscote, Shelfield, Pelsall, Darlaston, Willenhall, Short Heath, Great Barr, Walsall Wood, Streetly and – most definitely – Bloxwich, the questions “Where are you from?” or “Where do you live?” - they will very likely NOT tell you they are from Walsall. Even within the town itself, ask that question and you will likely hear “I’m from…” and insert Chuckery, Palfrey, Pleck, Bescot, Ryecroft, etc – not Walsall.
Now, that’s not necessarily saying anything against Walsall, the ancient black country town itself; it has a fine history, and many good people, even if it’s lost much of its built heritage and traditions, and has become rather run-down and mixed-up in modern times. If it had the stature it was accorded during the Victorian era, things might be different, but sadly it does not. And if you look back at what Walsall was doing for its people as recently as the 1970s, and how much has been sold-off, privatised, watered down, thrown away or closed since then (and more to come it seems), you will begin to realise how much has been lost in the intervening decades.
Pride of place is something which strikes much closer to home, and identifying with the distant town that empties the bins, runs the schools (in theory), builds the roads and – occasionally - fills the potholes in those roads but otherwise doesn’t pay all that much attention to peoples’ local identity really doesn’t make a lot of sense. Especially when your bit of the borough has been bolted on simply to satisfy political changes within living memory.
After all, to take another example, who really identifies with the non-existent “West Midlands County”, a geographical nonsense which has no reason to be exept for petty regional power politics and doesn’t even have a county council (itself abolished due to political in-fighting)? I suspect many in the Walsall area would much prefer to be back in Staffordshire (especially those who believe the Staffordshire Hoard was actually a Brownhills discovery!).
Local government really has nothing to do with a sense of place and the roots which your ancestors probably sank there generations if not centuries ago.
Of course, there are historical reasons for the connections between the places in Walsall Metropolitan Borough, but they are primarily to do with the imposition of authority, whether it be that of lords of the manor, wealthy families, the church, the burgesses, councillors and other empire builders. And so it is with the relationship between Walsall and Bloxwich. First with the medieval lords of the manor, later with the religious authorities of the church and its wardens, and finally the politicking of the modern era, which despite efforts to the contrary has all culminated over the centuries in a feeling which still resonates today, albeit less stridently and more tongue in cheek, that Bloxwich quite definitely ISN’T Walsall.
But what of the differences and rivalries between Bloxwich and Walsall? Well, Bloxwich appears in the Domesday Book of 1086, written for King William the Conqueror to assess his realm, stolen from the Anglo-Saxon English, for the purpose of taxation and of extending his iron rule. Strangely, Walsall does not appear, and this has been the source of speculation and much amusement on the part of Bloxwich folk over the centuries. It could be just a clerical error, and that’s certainly possible. Others have suggested that there was nothing worth mentioning at Walsall, and that certainly strikes a chord with Bloxwich wags looking to poke fun at the old enemy just up the road.
But why an “old enemy”? Well, apart from generations of religious and political bickering, there is the small matter of the English Civil War of the mid-1600s, the arguments between church wardens and overseers for the poor, and of the rows over unfair taxation in the days when the Parish of Walsall was divided into the townships of the Borough and the Foreign of Walsall.
It is clear from the research of Mr Ernest J. Homeshaw, Bloxwich’s most noted local historian, that the old Borough of Walsall (basically what is now the modern town centre) was often at odds with the Foreign (those villages and hamlets within the Parish of Walsall but outside the Borough boundary. This was, as you might expect, mostly about politics, influence and money.
Notably, during the Engish Civil War the Borough of Walsall appears to have largely sided with the Parliamentarians or ‘Roundheads’ while the gentlemen of the Foreign, the most prominent part of which was Bloxwich, generally held allegiance to the Royalists or ‘Cavaliers’. And judging by some of the things that happened in England during that war, it is no surprise that the animosity generated by that disastrous, divisive conflict still has echoes today, albeit the reason has been generally forgotten.
It was during the 1600s and after that the main bone of contention between Borough and Foreign - the collection of a rate to ‘provide for the poor’ - brought the feuding to a peak. Over many decades, the complex way in which the poor rate was assessed and divided was declared unfair on one side or another by feuding ‘Forreners’ and ‘Burrowemen’.
Bloxwich churchyard was consecrated in 1733. From the Reformation onward the dead of Bloxwich had had to be buried in St. Matthew’s churchyard in Walsall, but with the increasing tension between the Borough and Foreign, local folk desired to be independent and to bury their dead within the village. This independence was to be expressed in many ways over the years.
It seems significant that the area’s first workhouse was in Bloxwich, built by 1752, and Bloxwich people insisted on being consulted in the appointment of its master, as they did also of a minister, which, in the 18th century, was a remarkable sign of democracy at work. The Walsall Union workhouse, later established at Walsall and taking over from Bloxwich in 1838, eventually evolved into the Manor Hospital, which some might say is no surprise. But the church wardens and the justices of Walsall were forever arguing with the overseers at Bloxwich about the collection of the Poor Rate etc.
Later, arguments about the distribution of funds from various charities caused more bad feeling to ferment. A further crisis occurred in 1752, when Samuel Wilks and John Whitehouse, Overseers for the Poor for the Foreign, retired, and the Justices of the Peace for Walsall refused to appoint others for the Foreign alone, and proceeded to make ‘one General and intire Rate through the whole Parish’. Since at this time the poor in the Borough greatly outnumbered those in the Foreign and the rate was three times as much in the pound, there were vigorous protests from the people of Great Bloxwich and the liberties of the Foreign.
As a result of the controversy Samuel Wilks refused to give up his books to the Justices and went to prison for contempt of court, determined to resist the rate and declare the separateness of the Foreign. He served his sentence with fortitude, and all the wealth and power of Bloxwich backed him in his fight for the independence of the Foreign. In November 1753, the King’s Bench decided in favour of Bloxwich, and Samuel Wilks was the hero of the hour, but it was not until 1756 that the mean-spirited Walsall Justices, hanging on for grim death, finally gave in and appointed separate overseers for the Foreign.
In the modern era, such distant memories have long faded but have left their imprint almost as a ‘race memory’. There is still a (mostly) friendly rivalry between Walsall and Bloxwich, though there has been no shortage of political bickering between town and village over the years. The original Bloxidge Tallygraph, a scurrilous and rebellious rag [even more than the present edition!] given away at Bloxwich Wakes in the 1870s even goes so far as to include the following ‘Advertizemint’ in its first issue:
“WANTED next November a few good-lookin’ Men, of good moral karracter, tu be elected az Councillors for the Forrin Ward. They mus’n’t be ov less stature than 5 feet 4 inches, nor ov less weight than 10 stone, want of sense wunner diskwalify, but they MUN have plenty ov cheek or they wunner be enny use on the Wawsull Council.”
The political bickering and infighting continued into the 20th century and in the 1920s the rivalry between Bloxwich and Walsall was even likened to “the Irish question”. There is much fun to be had in reading the Walsall Observer of this period for little snippets about the political head-butting going on along the Borough boundary… In fact the now-legendary and still controversial Bloxwich Fountain was at the heart of much similar argument during the year leading up to its move from Bloxwich Park to the Promenade Gardens in 1928. Walsall is well-known for its “interesting” and “colourful” political culture even today, but perhaps the less said about that the better…
E. J. Homeshaw says in the preface to his seminal 1955 book ‘The Story of Bloxwich’, “The consciousness of the difference between Bloxwich and Walsall is shared by those who were born there and certainly made known, in no uncertain manner, to all who come into contact with them. Even in these days when parochialism is considered to be as out of date as the ‘velocipede’ there are business firms who flout the Post Office, and style themselves ‘of Bloxwich’ and not ‘of Bloxwich, Walsall.’ And there is no reason to think otherwise today, which is why The Bloxidge Tallygraph is published by ‘The Little Bloxwich Press, Little Bloxwich, Staffordshire’ and is proud to say so at the foot of every page. What is also ironic is that many poor Staffordshire folk, never connected with Walsall in any way, are today forced to use a Walsall post code…
Homeshaw goes on to remind us that “A hundred years ago [now more than 150] a Walsall Irishman, E.L. Glew wrote ‘They have ever been strenuous in maintaining their parochial independence’.” He also notes that “Two hundred years ago [now over 250], Samuel Wilks went to prison rather than surrender his rights. Three hundred years ago [350 now], Thomas Wollaston was bemoaning the fact that the ‘Forreners’ were not content. In the days of the first [Queen] Elizabeth, Walter Whytehalle [of Bloxwich] rebuked the Mayor of Walsall as a ‘false harlott’.”
The available evidence points to a separate establishment of a Chapel of St. Thomas the Martyr (ancestor of All Saints Church) in Bloxwich some seven hundred and fifty-odd years ago, which is as good a time as any to declare the independence of Bloxwich from, assuming you accept the premise that the village has ever been part of Walsall. And as Mr. Homeshaw sagely if rather cheekily points out, “…curiously enough the moat in front of the church today faces Walsall.” Others have often pointed out, also tongue in cheek, that the height above sea level of the steps of Bloxwich Church is equal to that of Walsall’s St. Matthew’s Church’s steeple…
I can do no better in conclusion than echo the words of D.R. Dudley of Birmingham University in his foreword to ‘The Story of Bloxwich’, a book which does much to both explain and justify the strong independence of Bloxwich and the Foreign through so many centuries: “While I hope the rivalry with Walsall will always persist, I should like to think that the people of Bloxwich will realise that there are some things which even Walsall has not got.” A working fountain, for one…
Permanent link here.
Dateline: 19 July 2010
Last Thursday something happened which might conceivably mark a watershed in Bloxwich, indeed Walsall, politics.
The Conservative Party were soundly beaten, and the Liberal Democrats decimated, in a local authority by-election for the Walsall Council ward of Bloxwich West, for many years seen as pretty much a ‘safe seat’ for the Tories.
The election had been triggered by the untimely death of respected long-standing Tory Councillor and former mayor Melvin Pitt on the eve of the General Election earlier this year.
The results, unofficially declared over the internet at a time of night when Walsall Council’s Web Wizards and Twitter Tzars were apparently tucked in with their teddies, were not confirmed till morning, but appeared, accurately as it turns out, to reveal that Fred Westley, the Labour candidate, polling 1142 votes, had turned the tables on the new Conservative candidate with his own majority of 342. The Tory hopeful, Theresa Smith, polled just 800 votes with the other parties barely getting a look in as follows: UKIP 91, Lib Dem 71 and Green 28.
The late Cllr Melvin Pitt, described pithily by Cllr Mike Bird (Leader of the Council) as “a real street fighter” had previously held a majority of 300 in the seat from 6 May 2010 and nearly 1000 when last fought. But it now seems that those supportive votes may have been cast for the man and his work - not for the party to whom he held allegiance.
Embarrassing revelations regarding post-General Election alterations to leaflets promoting the new Tory candidate can hardly have helped her cause, but unremitting rounds of savage cuts in local and national government, actual and proposed, especially in school funding, must surely have had a significant effect on the vote. It seems unlikely that families whose lives had been thrown into turmoil by the closure of Sneyd School in the face of seemingly ignored public opinion, for example, will have been much inclined to place a 'X' by the name of one of Prime Minister Cameron’s footsoldiers.
David ‘Predator’ Cameron and his clueless minion Michael ‘Terminator’ Gove, blood-stained machetes in hand as they bestride a fearful nation in danger of being hacked limb from limb, having unceremoniously consigned Building Schools for the Future to a 'bonfire of the vanities', would no doubt approve of that closure, however - if they have ever heard of Bloxwich. Perhaps, as part of their much-vaunted “Bog Society”, some religious fanatic might now be given the opportunity to turn the crumbling buildings in Vernon Way into a Creationist Academy, after all it would probably only cost a quid…
As for the way the Con-Dem Axis is currently treating public sector staff nationally as whipping boys and girls to pay for the greed of the banks and the incompetence of several generations of British “government”, just don’t get me started on that.
A week is a long time in politics, they say, and more than sufficient time has now passed for the true ‘slash and burn’ nature of the increasingly unpopular coalition’s “new politics” to come to light. And so an unexpected spanner was thrown in the works on Thursday, by veteran local Labour man Fred Westley. We have yet to see what kind of job he will do for the people of Bloxwich West, but it seems the majority of voters at least have welcomed him with open arms, and we shall make it our business to keep an eye on him!
This kind of result, although 'only' a by-election, and as yet a long way from a local revolution, must surely be seen as a stern warning to the Con-Dems not to be complacent. It should also give new hope to the Labour party for the future. Perhaps it will even give rise to a resurgence in local Labour activity which has languished for so long since being slapped down by so-called “New Labour” (aka “New Tories”) for daring to have a socialist agenda.
It also sends a clear message to the Tory leaders of Walsall Council that voters who are tired of cuts and threats to their public services will eventually push back.
Permanent link here.
Dateline: 28 February 2009
A simple enough job, you would have thought. Remove a rusty old fountain, neglected for decades apart from the odd coat of paint. Cart it away to Brum, give it a sandblasting and a respray, replace four cherubs, install a new pump, and return it home safely for installation on a smart new base. Cue a round of civic pomp and ceremonial back-slapping, and after the fuss has died down, quietly forget the erstwhile local icon for another century.
Of course, in Walsall, things are never that simple, especially when they're not in Walsall, but in Bloxwich, beyond the pale...
The latest restoration of the legendary Bloxwich Fountain has seen a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs over the past year - yes, year! Was it really necessary for all this to take quite so long? Could the project have been handled better? Ask the Friends of Bloxwich Parks and they will certainly give you one answer. Of course there are two sides to every argument, and unexpected problems do crop up in every project, but it is the way those problems are dealt with that defines how it is seen in the public eye. Perhaps the best thing to do now is to set aside the past and move forward.
However the story is not yet over. The botched base which has become an eyesore in the heart of the village now has to be cut down in size, and reworked to a more professional standard. All the rubbish dumped in the pool has to be removed, and the dislodged slabs replaced. Then our favourite fountain, which is after all one of the six iconic Bloxwich memorials (the others being the Anvil Stones, the Preaching Cross, Samuel Wilks' gravestone, Pat Collins' Clock and the Bloxwich Tardis), has to be safely reinstalled and put back into operation. Hopefully it will then work for decades to come. It had better be a good job, because it is unlikely to get any regular maintenance.
Of course there are other issues with the fountain area of the Promenade Gardens. The paving around the pool is in very poor condition, and a lot of work is needed there. And then there are the missing planters - can these be added in future? Have a look at the photographs in our Bloxwich Fountain Flickr album, and you will see that this whole area was far better in years gone by, including the quality of the flower beds. Money will have to be raised to sort these matters out, and it will be up to the Friends of Bloxwich Parks to try and build up the momentum for this.
The Bloxwich Fountain Fiasco has once again stirred up the age-old rivalry between Bloxwich and Walsall in the minds of local people, dating back to the Civil War and the centuries-old disputes between the Borough and the Foreign. There is a feeling that has never really gone away that says that while Walsall benefits from the best, Bloxwich is lucky to get the rest.
Whether that's true or not - and you must judge for yourself - one thing is clear. Out here in the sticks, community matters, not political posturing. Something to remember for the future.
Permanent link here.
FREQUENCY OF PUBLICATION
Late last year (2009) it was announced that The Bloxidge Tallygraph would be in future be published (updated) on a weekly basis. For various reasons, that has proven to be impractical, and due also to my many other commitments I have had to reluctantly return to the old shedule of updating when time permits.
However, in the case of important breaking news, I will continue to do all I can to publish a timely story on the front page.
All significant updates and changes will continue to be announced on Twitter and RSS via @TheTallygraph - please see our Twitter/RSS Updates page.
The Edditorial page is shortly going to be reorganised. Old edditorials will be moved to an Edditorial Archive. New Edditorials will continue to receive their own pages as they are published.
Dateline: 24 January 2010
At one time, back in the 60s, Bloxwich had one of the earliest TESCO stores in the area, on the corner of High Street and Victoria Avenue (the building remains as Total DIY).
Later, perhaps due to competition from ASDA when they bought Pat Collins’ Wakes Ground about 1972, they departed Bloxwich, never to be seen again.
Until now, it seems, with the announcement of their likely return to Bloxwich with a proposed TESCO Express store to be built on the corner of Lichfield Road and Selmans Hill.
Their battle with ASDA goes on today of course, and according to some TESCO has become well-known for its alleged aggressive policy of store placement nationwide. Perhaps they have an eye on the old enemy, not far away. What they may not be so concerned about, unsurprisingly, is the effect that a new TESCO, albeit a small one by their standards, will inevitably have on local business. They are, of course, in it to win it - and “every little helps”…
Small local storekeepers are not so happy, including Mr. Ranbhir Singh of Selmans Parade. All the hard work he and his predecessors in that store have put in over the decades is likely to go down the drain once TESCO gain a foothold literally next door. The personal, friendly service he and other local storekeepers pride themselves on may be washed away in a tide of cost-cut corporate convenience once the competition settles in. And it seems that at least 300 local petitioners would rather support genuine local businesses and local people than multi-national money machines.
Then there is the pressure on the local infrastructure which must be created by such a development, with the inevitable increase in traffic congestion and delays which will surely be caused by placing a store of this nature on the corner of a busy traffic-lighted main road crossroads next to a pub, bus-stops and one of the largest schools in the area. For the school, there must be potential road safety concerns.
Of course, there are always the reasonable voices out there calling for “regeneration”, and they have a point. But regeneration at what cost?
There, dear reader, is the bottom line.
Permanent link here.
Dateline: 25 December 2009
January, which is not far away, is named for Janus, the two-faced Roman god who looks both forward and backward, and appropriately enough, as this is seen each year as a time to reflect on the past and to look forward to the future.
As far as I am concerned, the past year has been a time of both sadness and of success. My father passed away late in 2008, and more than one friend has followed him in the time since then. Sometimes life has been a struggle or stressful, one way or the other. Many have faced difficult and worse times in 2009, however, what with the economy and war, rising unemployment and the incompetence of government and the banks.
On the other hand, some obstacles have been overcome, and The Bloxidge Tallygraph, amongst other activities, has gone from strength to strength. I have made new friends, renewed old friendships and made positive changes in my life. I have also had the pleasure of putting something back into the local community in some small way. There is still much more to do, of course.
The end of the year has been a strange one, for me. The anniversary of my father’s death in November was a difficult time. But I have tried to enter into the Christmas spirit a little more this year, through these pages and with family and friends, whether virtual or in the world beyond cyberspace, with a few surprises along the way, and I feel happier than I have for some time.
However, now is also a time to look forward, and the future is something we have to build for ourselves; it does not make itself. There is much to be done, and hopefully fun to be had, in the New Year. The Tallygraph is small fry in the grand scheme of publishing, but I feel it has a useful place in serving Bloxwich and district, and I hope our readers feel the same. If nothing else, it may help cover a few matters of local import that would otherwise fall through the cracks. I will do my best to build on the past year’s success. I know I will be busy, that’s for sure.
I am involved in many other things apart from the Tallygraph and my ‘day job’ as a local historian and photographer. You may not be aware that in 2002 I co-founded the Society for the History of Astronomy, now established as the UK’s national society in that field. I write a local heritage column for the Walsall Chronicle on a monthly basis. I am also on Bloxwich Carnival Committee, and attend the Bloxwich, Leamore & Blakenall Retailers Traders Partnership, offering the support of The Tallygraph. No doubt I will get roped into other things in the new year; I really must learn how to juggle my time better if I am to do more writing, which is another ambition! In any event I will try to be, and do, better in future.
On a political note, I hope we see some positive change in the New Year. It has been a terrible year both for voters and their so-called representatives. Sadly, our negative opinions of politicians have been confirmed on many occasions in the last twelve months, whether it be a matter of expenses or of ignoring the needs and opinions of the people.
Who we will be stuck with in government at the next general and local elections remains to be seen; hopefully the voters will have a long memory and place their ballot accordingly. We are not, after all, as stupid as they think we are. We could not possibly be so…
A wise man once said, “Expect the unexpected”. I am sure there will be surprises for us all in 2010. I hope they will be pleasant ones, for we have all had enough of the other variety in 2009.
Finally, I should like to thank a few of my online friends for their help and support. Mark Blackstock of www.theyamyam.com for helping to raise of the profile of the Tallygraph and his sage counsel. Brownhills Bob, the enigmatic champion of his town and those who suffer incompetence in the area. He has also sent more than a few readers our way! Dan Slee, who has opened doors and introduced me to some aspects of social media I had never thought of. The Forrener, whose voice has needed to be heard on more than one occasion. The chaps and chapesses on the Walsall group of Flickr, and those who have followed my accounts on Twitter, many of whom have become daily correspondents in that mode. You have enriched my days in many ways. I look forward to conversing with you all in the coming year.
May I take this opportunity to wish all our readers a happier, healthier, safer and more prosperous year in 2010.
I hope you will continue to read The Bloxidge Tallygraph, and enjoy its little eccentricities as much as the information you glean from its pages.
Permanent link here.
Dateline: 19 December 2009
At this time of year, it’s often tempting to make a trip to the nearest pound shop and invest in a black Santa hat and a king size bag of humbugs. After all, these days Christmas is just another commercial con, surely?
What do we normally see around us during the modern ‘festive season’? Parents in a blind panic because little Shane wants the latest X-Station games console and their credit cards are over the limit (again)… Middle class hubbies struggling back to their Range Rovers beneath a hundredweight of M&S mince pies and port while wifey chooses her latest unnecessary handbag… Chavs slouching around Brownhills Market doing their Christmas shoplifting for fake dvds, X-Factor singles and counterfeit Chinese Burberry…
And that perennial winter sport of charity-mugger and Big Issue-seller dodging up and down the broad avenues of Park Street, surely the envy of slalom skiers the world over… Of course the sport is a bit trickier this year as there’s a fair chance of banging into a market stall if you’ve overdone it a bit on the Tesco’s lager or the Poundland liqueur chocs…
But, hairy old cynic that I am, as I sit here in the garret at Tallygraph Towers scratching away with my quill pen like Bob Cratchit, shivering and wondering whether I can afford to toss another coal on the fire, I’ve begun to feel my heart warming a little, and I’m surprised to say that I have seen evidence of the good old Christmas spirit in Bloxwich and beyond this year, maybe because I’ve been more involved than usual myself through the Bloxidge Tallygraph.
For example, the return of the Bloxwich Christmas tree to the Promenade Gardens - who would have expected that at a time when some uncharitable folk might suggest that Scrooge is alive and well and living in Lichfield Street? Provided by a partnership of Bloxwich retailers and traders supported by Walsall Council staff, this surely is one ‘green shoot’ that has more implications than merely festive ones. After all, support for our village, or anywhere else in the borough, has to mean more than just filling pot holes and ticking government boxes - the raising of morale in bleak and difficult times is as at least as important as the physical infrastructure, and anything that can cheer us up through the darkest part of the year is surely very welcome. Our new tree offers us a beacon of light in more ways than one.
Other trees popping up here and there have shone a light on their own communities, notably in Lower Farm, Little Bloxwich, which usually gets ignored when it comes to the doling out of gruel by the Beadle. This month, hundreds turned out on a freezing cold night to greet little Demi Cullum and the deputy Mayor and Mayoress at the Lower Farm lights switch-on before repairing to a jolly fair for all the family at Lower Farm School. And the enormous tree was actually paid for personally by two local Councillors. Now that’s care in the community and by the community. Can we have some more, please?
This year there’s also been the harmonious and plucky tweeting of community-minded folk out there in the Walsall blogosphere and Twitterverse, which is even now increasingly festive (albeit occasionally cynical) in tone. It seems that communication, community concern and scrutiny are not dead, despite the sad demise of the town’s most historic local newspaper and whatever you may think of the effectiveness of local democracy. There are still people out there who want to make a difference, you just have to listen for them in the right way, although some are as yet undecided whether to hand out ferrero rocher or humbugs this Christmas…
And apart from cyberspace, what about the work of all those community and tenants groups and clubs in the real world who selflessly put themselves out to offer a jolly Christmas to young and old alike each year? Bloxwich Community Partnership, New Horizons, Leamore TMO, the Lions and Bloxwich Rotary to mention just a few of dozens? Not to mention the vicars and church groups everywhere running their carol services and fairs and offering help and support in the community? This is, after all, their time of year, inspired by the first Christmas, and a season when both Christmas spirit and community spirit are more important than ever.
We are a long way down the timeline from Bethlehem, which has its own problems today, but whether you are religious or not, you have to admit that whatever or whoever inspires good in the world has to be good for the world.
The Christmas spirit is still out there, alive and kicking, you just have to dig your way past the dross and the trivia of the crudely commercial to find inspiration beneath. It’s remarkable how many good things go unnoticed in our community simply because we don’t take the time to look for them or because our busy lives so often give us tunnel vision. This festive season is the ideal opportunity to look a little deeper and think a little harder about what we do with those lives.
May I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a much happier New Year than 2009, however you choose to spend it.
Permanent link here.
Dateline: 12 December 2009
You know, I always used to think I was a fossilised teenager, and acted accordingly (care to see my Xbox 360 Elite?), but since I passed the milestone of my 50th birthday back in September, I find myself becoming less and less tolerant of idiots, especially those who seem to take pride in messing up our streets, and polluting our lives. And just don’t get me started on politicians, who have messed up our lives in all sorts of other ways…
I think I’ve turned into a grumpy old man, but at least I’m in good company (hope you’re reading this, Rick Wakeman)!
I’ve spent a lot of time walking around Bloxwich and Walsall, thinking (always a dangerous thing), and I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s something rotten in the state of Walsall, not mention Britain as a whole. Nothing new there, you may say, and I expect you’d be right, but I’m generally a glass half full sort of a chap, and recently it seems to me that the glass is becoming increasingly half empty.
What do I see around me on my peregrinations? Dirty streets, with both dim-witted ‘young people’ (heaven preserve us from PC-speak!) and supposedly ‘mature’ adults strewing rubbish and food waste behind them in their wake. It’s a wonder they aren’t followed by a flock of seagulls, but most of the time it’s just the one-legged Walsall ‘pijjins’, the urban-camo-clad rats of the sky, who benefit from their detritus. How often have you seen some oik stand right next to a waste bin and toss chip papers or a burger box on the ground next to it? The spitters and smokers are the worst, mind you. They can’t expel the nauseating contents of their clogged respiratory systems into a hanky or a drain or gutter, oh no - it has to go on the pavement, in the apparent hope that someone will step in it. Oh, how they must larf. And why oh why is it that they see a bus stop as a giant ash tray? Many’s the smoker I’ve seen dump a lit cigarette just before stepping on a bus, without any thought for others. Do they do this at home, I ask myself? Probably they do, chances are they don’t care about themselves, let alone anyone else.
Some of these doyens of dirt probably also have a sideline in amateur fly-tipping (as opposed to professional fly-tipping, which is ever on the increase, as Brownhills Bob has recently recounted). They may even see it as a hobby or sport. These are the people who are too bone idle to take their excess rubbish or furniture down the Council tip, and instead chuck it over their back fence into a railway cutting or alleyway to fester or potentially cause accidents. I know of such a cutting which has been used as a dump for decades. It becomes more obvious from time to time when someone steals the planks of the fence keeping people out of the cutting. Whether this is for firewood, to repair their own fences or for the sheer ‘fun’ of it, no-one knows.
Then there are those dodgy dog owners (I hesitate to call them dog lovers) whose cross-bred rottweilers or pit bulls leave a random trail of doggy doo down the street, with no thought - or perhaps deliberate thought - for those who might put their foot in it later. Not to mention the toddlers wandering by who may think it’s something to play with, God knows what they might catch… I’m a dog owner myself, and I can tell you, I leave no poo behind me when out for walkies (none of the dog’s either)! The thoughtless dropping of doggy doings is a classless sport, it seems. There’s a posh street (the house owners think so, anyway) on my usual dog walking route, and it’s always something of a minefield, strewn as it is with numerous nuggets of doggy goodness by ‘posh’ folks walking those ratty little dogs, Yorkies and suchlike, and who cannot be bothered to ‘scoop the poop’. Still, as long it’s not in front of their doorsteps, it’s ok, isn’t it?
Clearly, these people who are slowly burying our streets and parks under a layer of crap (literal and metaphorical) have been taught nothing of courtesy and mindfulness by their parents, probably for several generations. I don’t suppose even the schools can do much about it now, having lost their grip on discipline and the instillment of good manners back in the 80s.
Of course, the poor understaffed and overworked Council street cleaners (an endangered species, it seems) of whom we see less than we do of police on the beat these days just can’t keep up with all this. Certainly the single ‘barrow man’ who has to run the gauntlet (and I do mean run) of Bloxwich High Street can have no chance of coping with what the rest of us have to step gingerly around, assuming we are lucky enough to spot it in time. Must be like painting the Forth Bridge with a q-tip while dodging seagulls with diarrhoea.
Mind you, there are plenty of traffic wardens around, so that’s all right, isn’t it?
Dateline: 5 December 2009
Recently, a serious matter which has been bubbling under for the past few years has come to the boil and has broken into mainstream consciousness, receiving coverage on the BBC and in national newspapers most recently because a BBC employee going about his lawful business was directly affected by it.
It is particularly disturbing because it not only signifies an unjustified warping and distortion of the values of our so-called society but also an alarming breakdown in the relationship between some police officers and a significant element of the population.
No, I’m not speaking of race or sexual relations. I’m talking about what amounts to an assumption of guilt and dubious intent by police, parents and busybodies against an innocent band of hobbyists and professionals: photographers. All too often these days, it seems, some idiot, official or unofficial, will come up to a photographer taking pictures in the street or in some other public place and effectively accuse them of being a paedophile, a pervert, or a terrorist. The very act of using a camera has, it would appear, become an offence in some warped, untrained or uneducated minds.
This kind of paranoia has been fed by the rise of political correctness which has seen, for example, the banning of photography during some school plays because it is assumed that all photographers are potential perverts. It is also seen in the slow but slippery slide towards a police state which seems to have been caused by the control-freakery of a government at war on ‘terror’ and amongst some elements within the police forces of this nation who appear to be either untrained, unaware or uncaring when it comes to the relationship between photographers and the law of the land.
Certainly it seems that some of the minions of authority, whether they be police, PCSO or glorified traffic warden seem to have forgotten that they are employed by the public, and are indeed public servants. The elected representatives of the public forgot this for many years, and just look where that has led Parliament and some local councils.
The authorities are ever-eager, it seems, to control the populace in the guise of protecting them from criminals or terrorists, who apparently lurk around every corner. Of course a reasonable case can be made for some aspects of the security laws, but it is when such powers are misused and technology abused by ‘jobsworths’ for relatively petty purposes that one begins to wonder just what is going on.
As a photographer, both professional and amateur, for more than thirty years, I have had little experience with this kind of thing personally, but I have heard some horror stories from local photographers who have been left nervous and demoralised by their encounters with over-zealous officials and paranoid public. Nationally, moreover, it is clear this kind of lunacy is not uncommon, and is on the rise.
Increasingly it seems that we find ourselves as photographers in British society having to look over our shoulders when taking an innocent snap of a scenic building, or a beautiful park, or people in a public place. The assumption being that we are ‘casing the joint’ for a gang of suicide bombers or taking pictures for a ring of internet perverts. Possibly there are some of these people out there – but you will not notice them. They will be unobtrusively snapping away with their mobile phones, not standing out like a sore thumb with a big camera and perhaps a tripod or a bag of equipment. Of course there could be a rocket launcher in that camera bag, disguised as a zoom lens…
Lately, photographers have increasingly had their collars felt by police officers, especially in London, whose training or competence may be open to question, as is their common sense. To put it bluntly, there is no law that prevents the taking of photographs in public places, and neither police, security guards nor traffic wardens have powers to stop you using your camera lawfully in such places. Likewise, no member of the public has the right to harass or harangue you in the street because you have taken a photograph of an historic school building or children playing innocently with their parents, though it would probably be wise to make yourself known to parents in the latter circumstances.
The Metropolitan Police's own website makes interesting reading:
It’s time to take a stand on this. A stand for common sense, fair play and natural justice, not to mention the presumption of innocence in law. If we do not, we will lose another one of our precious freedoms to paranoia and power-mania. We have, after all, lost too many already.
Dateline: 28 November 2009
You know, despite the fact that Noddy Holder was a Beechdale lad and went to my alma mater T.P. Riley, I do understand those who get really, really irritated when the shops put the Christmas decorations up and start playing old Slade CDs at the beginning of November.
Every year it seems that the “festive season” starts earlier and becomes more and more commercialised, and more and more rubbishy, to the point that it almost seems to have lost its original message and you don’t dare ask the kids about the meaning of Christmas because you just KNOW they’ll say it’s the time when Santa drops by with the latest PlayStation.
Now as someone who respects the beliefs of good people but doesn’t rank high in the annals of churchgoing (at the last Census I put my religion down as ‘Jedi’, and I actually DO own a light sabre), I take quite a lot of this with more than a pinch of salt, especially as, historically speaking, it’s quite clear that Christmas is actually a pagan festival (Yule) which was hijacked by the early medieval church.
But at this time of year I still remember fondly the days when, for me and my family Christmas was that wonderful festival which only came but once a year and then only for a couple of weeks instead of three months. And we never had any real money (just as well since there were no computer games!) so hiding under the sheets till the early hours of the morning and then falling asleep without ever spotting Santa meant that it was still a magical time, and whatever turned up in our Christmas stockings was a joy, no matter how simple. When I look back on that, apart from all the good family things that happened at home, there are three things which really jump out at me in a fuzzy, golden glow of 3D nostalgia.
1. The corny old Christmas songs that were all new back then (Merry Christmas Everybody!) before the marketing idiots turned them into Muzak.
2. The annual Christmas play at the Sunshine School in Blakenall Lane (I played various parts, including Abanazar and Old King Cole - it seems I was a bit of a thesp back then, what ever happened to that?).
3. The Bloxwich Christmas tree in Promenade Gardens by the bogs and all the lights left over from Walsall Illuminations that were hung at random in the trees along High Street by the park, creating a tunnel of wonderment that was an annual joy to little kids like me.
And now all that’s gone, apart from the songs which have long since worn out their welcome, at least when played ad nauseam in shops that REALLY ought to know better by now.
But has it?
Actually I don’t know much about what goes on in Primary Schools today, but I understand the old Christmas play tradition still survives, although all you hear about it these days is when some paranoid head teacher bans cameras from the performance under the assumption that all men are perverts. Now that’s really sad, and I’d love to hear stories about how that doesn’t happen any more, but I’m not holding my breath.
One thing that really has wound back the years for me this week, though, is the return of the Christmas Tree to the Bloxwich Promenade Gardens. I really can’t remember when they moved the tree to the new Market Place (1980s? Early 2000s?) but for some years before that there was no tree at all due to constant vandalism, or at least that was the excuse (I bet it saved some money, somewhere) and although St. Peter’s Church had one on their frontage for a couple of years for some reason that eventually stopped.
But it really was a waste of time having a tree in the Market Place. After all, although it might have cheered up the traders a bit during the wet and freezing days of winter in Bloxwich, it really did nothing for the festive atmosphere during the hours of darkness, when no-one went to the Market Place. It was after all the time when the Christmas lights were lit (even the threadbare lights on the High Street lamp standards) which for me at least (and I suspect many others) was the whole point of having the tree in the ‘good old days’ when you could pass by it lit up in all its glory and follow the avenue of second-hand luminary wonder all the way to the end of High Street. And then you knew it really WAS Christmas.
So the Bloxwich Christmas tree is now back where it should be, albeit not quite in the same place. This is a good sign, for sure. But does it mean it’s Christmas? Well not quite yet, perhaps. I’ll let you know when I ride past it on the bus next time I’m on the way home from work, and if the lights are on, well, maybe it really will be time to dust off the Slade records, stock up on mince pies and brave the crowds in Poundland buying this year’s disposable decorations.
Who knows, I might even drop by the church for a carol service…
Dateline: 21 November 2009
If you don't know anything about the history and heritage of Bloxwich, you are missing out on the remarkable story of one of the most, if not the most, significant areas of what is now the Metropolitan Borough of Walsall.
"Bloxwich" does not just encompass Bloxwich - it includes what used to be called Great Bloxwich, Little Bloxwich, Leamore and Blakenall Heath. Some definitions even include Coalpool, Harden and Forest, up as far as Birchills and North Walsall.
Why is this so? Because historically Bloxwich was the most important part of what used to be known as the Foreign of Walsall, while what is now the town centre of Walsall was the old Borough of Walsall. Basically whatever was in the Parish of Walsall but not in the Borough was in the Foreign (or Forren in the early days, hence Forrener). Being ecclesiastical in origin, it also, oddly enough, included Walsall Wood, though that tends to get mixed up with Brownhills these days.
Over time, the inhabitants of the Borough and of the Foreign were often at loggerheads over taxation and politics, especially during the English Civil War and after. Sound familiar? You can find out more via this link.
This is one of the reasons why Bloxwich and district is so distinct from the rest of Walsall. And while the area has for centuries been governed by Walsall Council and its predecessors, and its boundaries have blurred due to the spread of huge pre and post-war housing estates, you can be absolutely sure that the people who live there know that their home is distinct from and, like the people, is different from the rest of Walsall.
It's easy to forget this in the busy modern world where we all rush around with our heads down, often not looking at what is around us. It's easy to lose that pride of place and even civic pride if no-one goes out of their way to remind us. We are after all rarely taught about it in schools. That which we see every day can blur and fade into insignificance if we don't take the time to slow down and just think for a minute about the good things that we have just on our doorsteps.
It's also easy to believe that Bloxwich, Leamore and (perhaps to a lesser extent) Blakenall Heath have been forgotten by the powers that be at the centre of things, not just recently but over decades. It's the little things that stand out, like inadequate maintenance of public toilets, insufficient street cleaners, and lack of enforcement of planning rules - or the enforcement of petty rules that make no common sense. So often, it seems, the money or the staff or the police or any of the things that matter are spread too thinly for the Bloxwich area to benefit significantly, but there is always funding to be found to make a big noise at the centre.
Now that's not always true, sometimes these things are just perception, but there are reasons for that perception and it's true enough to lower expectations and morale, and if you ask the traders and local people they'll soon give you their opinion!
Things can change, however, if we want them to enough, and if we're willing to push hard and work at it. Just see for example what Pelsall is doing with its Victorian Christmas and Aldridge with its Christmas Festivities, New Deal with their Christmas events in Blakenall Heath and even, dare I say, it, Walsall with its X-Factor Christmas Lights Switch-On (yes, they can afford the switch, even if Bloxwich can't!).
What can we do about it?
Well, first of all, if you're not happy about things in your bit of Bloxwich, or Leamore, or Blakenall or wherever, be sure to knock on the door of your local Councillor and ask them to help. After all, if you don't ask, you don't get, and that's what local democracy is all about. And don't forget we have a big shiny police station in Bloxwich full of people who are supposed to be working for us. Support them, and they'll support you - but DO get them out of their offices and onto the streets, that's where they're needed, not peering at computer screens all day.
Secondly, if you're a local business, join the Bloxwich, Leamore & Blakenall Retailers Traders Partnership. This is a genuine effort by Walsall Council to try and improve things in our area, and the opportunity needs to be grasped with both hands - don't just sit on them!
Thirdly, don't snooze in front of the telly with a bottle of lager. If you can, get off the sofa and support the local groups, charities, events and organisations that are trying to make life better in our area. You CAN make a difference, and you might even have some fun!
And fourth, but not least, find out about your home villages and just take an interest in what's going on around you. Have some pride of place, and pride in your community, and remember - Bloxwich and district is as good as anywhere else in the Borough, and better than most! But in today's sofa society, we really do need to work at it to bring back some of that community spirit which so many bemoan the loss of, but too few are doing anything to bring back.
What can the Tallygraph do for Bloxwich and district?
Well, small and beautifully marked as it is, The Bloxidge Tallygraph is nonetheless absolutely determined to support the local community and local business, and stand up for Bloxwich, Leamore and Blakenall Heath.
You can certainly expect us to kick up some dust and encourage local people to fly the flag for the area, and support others who are willing to make the effort to do so. People like Bloxwich Carnival Committee, Friends of Bloxwich Parks, Bloxwich Rotary Phoenix, Leamore TMO, the Bloxwich, Leamore & Blakenal Retailers Traders Partnership just to mention a very few who are doing things all the time in our very distinctive community. There are many more, you know who you are - so please get in touch!
With your support and interest in return, we can do more to raise the profile of Bloxwich and district and do our bit to improve the area and keep it the great place to live that it has always been, and will continue be in the future.
The past is an important signpost of the way to the future - but the future is in your hands. Pick it up and run with it!
Dateline: 15 November 2009
The past few weeks have really brought home to me firstly how essential it is that there be a local online news and information facility for Bloxwich - The Bloxidge Tallygraph is the first such to really try to address local needs - and secondly, how much of a commitment providing such a facility can be at busy news times!
On several occasions, I’ve even found myself filling a gap left by the local paper press, specifically covering the Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day events in Bloxwich, and the launch and subsequent formal opening, by the Mayor, of Holland's Bakery shop. I’ve no doubt that there will be more such gaps to fill at times, and I will continue to do what I can, subject to my many other commitments.
Of course I make no pretence to be competing with the ‘big boys’ - clearly I don’t have the resources of the Express & Star, Walsall Advertiser or Walsall Chronicle, nor the time to offer the general coverage of the the wider Walsall area which they provide so ably. What I can do is try to complement their work on a small scale in a more interactive and (to use some emerging jargon) “hyperlocal” fashion, by closely focusing on local events and issues in Bloxwich and district, in some cases in ways which are simply not practical for newspapers which are no longer published in Walsall. And of course on occasion I can feed back into their work more directly, for example as a columnist and occasional contributor to the Walsall Chronicle.
The Bloxidge Tallygraph is of course primarily a one-man-band operation, albeit I have some support from a handful of local contributors who have kindly allowed me to publish their work, which I regard highly (not to mention that mysterious fellow The Forrener…). This means that at times when things pile up it can be difficult to keep up. I take my work on the Tallygraph seriously, but I do have my ‘day job’ and increasing family commitments, and also work with a number of groups, local and national. I also write independently of the Tallygraph, something which I plan to expand considerably in the new year.
This means that, after considerable reflection, I feel that it’s time to put The Bloxidge Tallygraph on a more organised, formalised, predictable production schedule. Partly this is to make it easier for me to manage my commitments, and partly because I think it will help our readers to know when to expect something new.
So, what does this all mean for the future of The Bloxidge Tallygraph?
Well, the most significant development is that we are moving to a weekly publication schedule for news, and the Pic of the Day will become Pic of the Week. Edditorials will also be weekly, time permitting. Publication day will be Saturday, as was the case for the great local papers of the past. That doesn’t mean that if a major local story suddenly breaks that the Tallygraph will not cover it in a timely fashion if need be - we will! That is after all one of the best things about being an independent, online publication. If a story needs reporting now, it can be done now. Articles and features do not need to be so topical on the whole, and so they will move to a monthly schedule, and we will do our best to present our readers with at least one new feature or article every month, if possible in the first week of the month.
Some sections of the Tallygraph will also change to reflect that fact that better, more timely or different information is already available elsewhere. We already link to www.theyamyam.com as the topical local news hub for the Walsall area, and support that site by freely allowing items from the Tallygraph and my personal site to be linked from there. The Sports Page will evolve into a combination of links to other online news sites plus local sporting clubs and organisations. Occasionally a significant sports story will also feature on the front page, of course. I will be looking at other sections in a similar light. Additionally, I want to do more to reflect the cultural side of Bloxwich and district, and to support local business, in 2010.
One thing that will not change, however, is that The Bloxidge Tallygraph will remain fiercely and proudly supportive of the people and places of Bloxwich and district, and will continue to stand up for their distinctiveness and for their independent spirit. I hope we will continue to receive their, and your, support in return.
Dateline: 11 October 2009
When we speak of nostalgia, we often get a vision of the world war and brown bread generation sitting around a piano having a sing-song, but there’s more to it than that. After all, those of us who were born in the Space Age are not getting any younger, and occasionally something a little more recent will strike a chord from the days of our youth.
Last night I was flicking through the Freeview channels when I came across an unexpected delight – a dramatised documentary entitled ‘Micro Men’, starring Alexander Armstrong and Martin Freeman.
Broadly, the play was about those first few years in the 1980s when Britain was the world’s greatest innovator in the home computer revolution, which began almost as a cottage industry.
More specifically it was about the rivalry between Sinclair Research and Acorn Computers, the brainchildren of Clive Sinclair and his one-time employee Chris Curry, together with Curry’s partner Herman Hauser. They were the inventors and innovators who, together with their remarkable colleagues and co-conspirators, did for the British computer industry what Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs did for the USA with Apple.
People often forget that it was Sinclair (later Sir Clive) and his team who invented the digital watch, the pocket calculator, the miniature TV and the affordable home computer, decades before the digital age. He also came up with the C5, but we’ll pass over that… Curry and his compatriots were looking to take the next step, in competition with Sinclair, and devised a new microcomputer (the Proton!) which would stand up to the rigours of educational use, control robots and interface with scientific instruments. Winning the BBC Micro contract and renamed the BBC Micro, it would come to dominate educational computing and computer literacy initiatives, inspiring hobbyists to do their own thing in ways which before had been impossible. Sinclair’s ultra-cheap ZX81 and Spectrum on the other hand ruled the home market for years and pretty much single-handedly facilitated the computer games revolution.
Those were the great days when home computing was fun, when it was a challenge, and at first you often had to build your own kit and write your own programmes, which was all part of the excitement! Remember the BBC’s Computer Programme and the effort to get a computer into every school, and later into every home? That was Acorn leading the field with the British-made BBC Model B and its descendants. When was the last time you saw a British-made computer, watch or calculator?
Later, computer life was often about the challenge of getting programmes to load off worn tape cassettes, or listening to the coffee-grinder sound of a 5 1/4 inch floppy disk failing to load, or the surreptitious whisper of the tape chewing up in a Microdrive. Not to mention dot-matrix printers which jammed at the drop of a hat and tore holes in cheap paper with a sound like a machine-gun in overdrive.
Those of you who have only known the gigabyte generation will hardly believe that in the 80s RAM came in tiny chunks like 1k or 16k bytes, and then 32k or 48k was a huge innovation, with the peak, years later, being 128k. Some computers, like the Acorn BBC Micro, even had a real keyboard instead of rubber buttons! You programmed your home computer in Assembly Language or various arcane versions of BASIC (Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code). Programmes were mostly on cassette or in ROM. Processors were 8-bit or rarely 16. Eight, sixteen or 32 colours was the name of the game, high resolution was 160 or 320 pixels, a hard disc was something you threw about on the beach, and windows were something you smashed with a cricket ball :O)
Back then I fancied myself as a bit of a hacker, and I well remember using a 300 baud acoustic coupler (army surplus), with an old ICL dumb terminal and running up £250 a quarter ‘phone bills in the days before public access to the internet. I even wrote on communications for some of the home computer magazines, and edited pages on Prestel. Ah, those were the days, when Twitter was for the birds...
Those of you of like mind and similar age (I recently hit 50) will no doubt remember all the computers I owned: Sinclair ZX81, Sinclair Spectrum, Oric Atmos, Atari 800, Commodore 64, Dragon 32, BBC Model B and Master 128k, TI 99/4A, Amstrad CPC 464, 664 and 6128. Not to mention the Sinclair QL… But I never had a Jupiter Ace, sadly (remember the Forth language with reverse Polish notation?).
In the early 80s I co-founded the West Midlands Amstrad User Group which later morphed into the Serious Micro User Group as our interests widened. Where are all the computer clubs now?
The Japanese tried to take over the business with their own unifying standard, MSX, but they failed dismally, and it was too late. The writing was already on the wall for home computing, and 8-bit had lost its bite. Later I went on to the sixteen-bit power generation including the Atari ST, Acorn Archimedes and the Commodore Amiga, but while fun, they didn’t have the fascination of those DIY days.
The home computer business couldn’t last, sadly, and the bubble began to burst in the late 1980s/early 90s, when the barrow boys and big business took over and stifled the golden age of true home computing, bringing in the era of Boring Business Machines. The fun went out of the game as the big guns took over with IBM, Apple, Digital Research and Microsoft powering ahead with machines which were tools, not toys, where user input was not required just to get them to work (most of time, anyway!). Computers became commonplace, and the end of the typewriter was in sight.
Things have changed since then, of course. Today the operating system is king and computer life is basically a choice of worshipping the dark elder god Microsoft or becoming an acolyte of the shining cult of Apple. But that’s another story.
By the end of ‘Micro Men’, I had retrieved much which I had thought lost forever in my own non-volatile RAM, and I’m not ashamed to admit I shed a tear or two of real nostalgia. Those were the days of my youth, when computing was fun and scientists did their best work in a shed at the bottom of a garden in Cambridge. Not a Vera Lynn LP or Biggles book in sight, either.
It’s true what they say, you know. Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. But perhaps some of those great days can be recalled, even now. Maybe I’m just an aging geek at heart, but I’m sure I can hear the still, small voice of my dear old Beeb beeping softly from up in the loft, “Let me out of the box, let me out…” And maybe, just maybe, I will.
Dateline: 26 August 2009
celebrated his eightieth birthday whilst he was Mayor and congratulatory letters and telegrams poured into Bloxwich from all parts of the world. Of
While taking part in this year’s celebration of dear old
The shorter OED on historical principles describes the word ‘town’ in many ways, some of them archaic, but one of its definitions is “Now commonly designating an assemblage of buildings, public and private, larger than a village, and having more complete and independent local gover
Bloxwich has no ”complete and independent local gover
Over the decades, Bloxwich industry has drastically declined, many large factories have closed and mining has disappeared altogether. Bloxwich has spread somewhat over the years, it is true, but only by the addition of housing estates that have covered the fields with which it was once surrounded. Blakenall Heath was the first of the new estates, going straight from hamlet to housing in the mid 1920s-30s. Beechdale and Mossley are both primarily post-war, as is the slightly later Lower Farm Estate which expanded on Little Bloxwich. But in practice these are just increases in population. Size is, after all, not everything.
Bloxwich still has its own distinctive
By both definition and tradition, therefore, I would argue that Bloxwich may still be called a village, despite the fact that today it is often referred to as a town. We still have, in its leafy centre, our village green (
Bloxwich - town or village? I say village. What say you?
Dateline: 4 June 2009
It seemed like a good idea to publish this year’s Summer Edditorial at a time when not only has the weather warmed up, but
The current fevered debate in the media and the country over the alleged claiming of extravagant expenses by a minority of Members of Parliament and the resulting political fallout is set to run for some time to come, especially with the results of today’s European and (in some other parts of the UK) local elections bound to add to the controversy. The perceived lack of confidence in MPs of all parties may have severe consequences for the standing of those parties, deserved or not.
Inevitably, this will have its effect on local politics as well, albeit not this time around in Walsall Metropolitan Borough. I have always felt the best way to decide on voting is to consider who has done the best for the town, and to consider the consequences of change. Sometimes change is necessary to improve things, but be careful what you wish for – you may get it, and be stuck with it!
I do know that we have always been able to count on our Labour MP for Walsall North, David Winnick, who has done a good and conscientious job locally over many years and has conspicuously stood up for what is right in Parliament. And for the most part our Bloxwich Councillors of whichever party affiliation have worked hard for us under difficult circumstances for many years.
None of these good people are standing in the Euro elections, which offer a very different selection of parties and candidates, but these elections are still being seen as a referendum on mainstream politics, so who knows who will get in? However things turn out, European decision-making does have an (often unwanted!) effect on us locally and nationally, and it is likely that there will be dramatic changes in the political landscape for years to come.
I am not going to tell you who to vote for, that is a matter of personal conscience, but if you have the vote, then I would strongly urge you to use it, and decide carefully, for without your efforts our ancient democracy will be made even weaker than some in Westminster have made it already.
Spring has finally sprung in Bloxwich (in between the showers of rain!), and as always the many parks and green spaces in and around the town are a delight to the eye and to those of us who like to get out and about. Walsall may have its grand (if rather dilapidated) Arboretum, but we Bloxidge folk are well-blessed for greenery ourselves, what with Bloxwich Park (the old Village Green or Short Heath), Elmore Green, King George V Playing Fields, Leamore Park and last but not least the Promenade Gardens, scene of so much carnival history.
Speaking of the Promenade Gardens, hopefully it will not be too many weeks before we see the return of the famous Bloxwich Fountain which has been spending time in Birmingham for restoration, repair and repainting. What colour it will turn out to be next remains to be seen, so keep an eye on the Tallygraph's front page for the first pictures! More importantly, it is to be hoped it will be properly looked after in future, and not neglected as has been past tradition.
Of course this leads on to the thorny topic of Bloxwich Carnival and the likely loss of its traditional parade this year due to a lack of sponsorship in the way of trucks and lorries for floats. One can of course understand hard-pressed companies wishing to save money, but this kind of thing can only reflect badly on those who appear to have lost their community spirit and are also missing an opportunity to advertise themselves to a large audience of appreciative Bloxwich folk.
Bloxwich Carnival Committee have not lost their community spirit, however - and they will be doing their very best this year as always to make carnival day (Saturday 1st August) the best possible day for us all. I hope you will continue to give them your every support, as will The Bloxidge Tallygraph - see you there!
The Edditer, 30th April 2009
To download a copy of the first issue of the original single page 1874 Bloxidge Tallygraph (reduced to A4 from the original broadsheet size, colour jpeg, 2.2mb), click on this link.
To download a copy of the later descendant of the Tallygraph - 'The Bloxwich Telegraph' (21 January 1886, reduced to A4 from the original broadsheet size, colour jpeg, 1.7mb) - click on this link.
WANTED: PHOTOS OR POSTCARDS OF OLD BLOXWICH POLICE STATIONS, THE OLD BLOXWICH RAILWAY STATION AND OLD BLOXWICH LIBRARIES Do you have any photographs of the above buildings? If so, please get in touch as we need more to add to our forthcoming features, and also, with your permission, to the archives at Walsall Local History Centre - you could help us make history!
All photographs will be returned after scanning if required.