It is quite unusual for a resident of Ilfracombe to make the national news, let alone the international news, and it is extremely rare for the same person to do so twice in a few months. Marcus Hutchins has achieved this rare feat. The first occasion was when Marcus stopped a very nasty virus that was threatening to do damage to computers throughout the world, including many NHS computers here in Britain. Then he was hailed as a hero.
The rather large headline on the front of last week’s Journal read “It’s time to make the link road safe”. Much as I hate to criticise the incredibly intelligent and exceptionally erudite editor of that magnificent organ, I would respectfully suggest that that headline would better read “It’s long past time to make the link road safe”!
I read an interesting little report last week. Apparently, people in the Southwest, i.e. you and me, not only give more to charity than anyone else in the UK, we also volunteer more than anyone else. Not altogether surprisingly, volunteering was most common in people over 65, as well as those classified as “economically inactive”, in other words, lazy old gits like me, or, to put it more politely, senior citizens, the retired. Not surprising since we obviously have more time to spare than someone younger who has to earn a living and possibly also has a young family to bring up. Nonetheless, in Ilfracombe, I suspect that we probably exceed even the Southwest generally, at least in volunteering, and we see volunteers of all ages.
The Summer Reading Challenge on 19th July was a resounding success. I am told that the queue extended from the Library along the High Street! The Library signed up 277 children for the challenge (the highest number they have ever achieved) and gave away nearly 300 copies of Olli Tooley’s Book, For Cats’ Eyes Only.
You may remember a couple of weeks ago, I reported that my daughter, Elizabeth Webb, was off to Helsinki to take part in the WPC European Championships, weight lifting. She waited until she had returned to tell me that she came third in the competition overall and that she beat the British record for the dead lift in her weight class! Given that she has only been doing weight lifting since the beginning of the year, this is an excellent result. Well done, Elizabeth. Apparently, the competition did not tick all the correct boxes, so her record may not be officially recognised, but she is still quite new to the sport, so I don’t doubt that she will be able to repeat the effort at an officially recognised competition. I believe she will next compete in the British Championships in September in Bristol.
I very much regret that my speculation as to the reason for Venners closing was wrong; I am even more sorry that the real reason is the serious illness of the owner. He and his family have my sympathy.
Bad news for the High Street: Venners has already closed and The Photo Shop will close shortly. In retrospect, neither is too surprising. Venners is the wrong end of the High Street, and sells products at a relatively low price, so needing a good turnover. What with rent and business rates (which pay little attention to how profitable a business may be) that have to be paid before you have even sold a bun, perhaps the more surprising thing is that they have kept going for so long.
This coming weekend, a British team is travelling to Helsinki to take part in the WPC European Championships. One of the contestants, Elizabeth Webb, lives in Fremington. Elizabeth graduated from Southampton University with a first in maths and went on to qualify as a chartered accountant. About 4 years ago, she moved to North Devon and joined Philip J Milton & Co Plc to train as, and duly qualify as, a financial adviser. She goes regularly to a gym in Barnstaple and has competed in several endurance trials, the last being Rat Race earlier this year, when she raised over £700 for charity. She sings, and you may have heard her at the occasional Wednesday music evening at the George & Dragon or in the recent productions of Rock of Ages or Hairspray, which reopened the Queens Theatre. She took up power lifting earlier this year and entered her first competition in April, when she qualified for the British Team going to Europe. Elizabeth is competitive in that she is determined that whatever she does, whether financial advice, singing or powerlifting, she will be among the best at it. If you are going to Helsinki or will watch the Championships on TV, please cheer Elizabeth on.
By the time you read this, the Victorian and Steampunk Celebration will be over for another year.
This has been a particularly difficult year. First, the closure of the theatres and then the constantly shifting dates for their reopening made it difficult to plan various events, both those requiring indoor facilities and some outdoor events. And, of course, all the planning for the Friday when the cruise ship was due went by the board when the visit was cancelled, as so many other such visits have been.
Well, good to see that the election produced a strong and stable leader. Of course, that strong and stable leader is the Leader of the Opposition. Anyway, congratulations to Peter Heaton-Jones, who retained his seat as North Devon’s MP, albeit with a reduced majority. Well done to Mark Cann, who came in a surprisingly strong third place – I wonder how many votes he would have received had it not been the received wisdom that a vote for him in North Devon is a wasted vote
I gather that Mrs May’s government is to be propped up by 10 DUP MPs. This is not a prospect that I expect many on the mainland can regard with much enthusiasm, since their policies, based on the prejudices of the late Rev Ian Paisley, seem stuck firmly in the 50s. It is, however, worth remembering that the number of Conservative MPs in the Westcountry far exceeds this number. The exact number depends on where you choose to draw the boundary of the Westcountry. However, if you include constituencies no further east than Somerset and Dorset, we have well in excess of 20 MPs, more than enough, if they have the guts to work and stand up together, to ensure that the dismemberment of our NHS hospitals is put on the back burner at least for this parliament.
Whilst it is certainly the case that the MPs and the constituencies they represent will have somewhat varying priorities, it is equally certainly the case that the Westcountry constituencies have more interests in common than they have differences. In particular, it is in the interests of all that none of our hospitals is closed, down-graded or deprived of vital resources, since any closure, total or partial of one, will have a knock-on effect on all.
I will be paying close attention over the coming months to see which, if any, of the Westcountry MPs puts loyalty to his or her constituency ahead of blind loyalty to a dangerous and unpopular party policy, which, in truth, has no part in the Conservative Party that I used to know.
Geoffrey Cox, the MP for our neighbouring constituency of Torridge and West Devon, also retained his seat.
During the campaign, he made an interesting promise – if A&E in Barnstaple Hospital were threatened with closure, he would chain himself to the railings and resign the party whip. I wonder how many of his constituents are accumulating rotten vegetables in the secret hope that A&E does close!
In reality, of course, A&E is very unlikely to be chosen for closure. Neither is it even remotely likely that the hospital as a whole would be closed – I think that the NHS bosses would have to be criminally insane to contemplate either of these options. What is much more likely, unless we can prevent it, is that one or more of the specialist departments would be moved to Exeter or Plymouth. We have already lost ENT, and maternity and stroke have been mentioned as possible casualties. What then happens is that the hospital becomes increasingly less attractive for consultants and ambitious healthcare workers and so more departments close because they cannot get the staff. Eventually, the hospital becomes little more than a glorified community hospital – a larger version of the Tyrrell of old – with an A&E which is no more than a minor injuries unit and wards consisting of recovery beds only. Do we want that?
And meanwhile, no doubt you have seen the report that Dr Alison Diamond circulated a memo to staff setting out three options to deal with what she called “a number of bed capacity issues which impacted the quality of care we were able to offer patients at NDDH”, in other words, there were not enough beds to deal with the patients requiring them. Each option suggest one or two things and ends “and close Alex”. Now, let’s run that through again. Last year, patient care suffered because there were not enough beds, so the solution involves closing a ward full of beds? Someone around here is bonkers, and I don’t think it is me.
I finally made it to the Landmark café today and had a cup of coffee. To be honest, the coffee was not to my taste, but, at least, it was made in one of those impressive and noisy machines full of dials, levers, steam and probably Italian voodoo. At the moment, the offering at the café is very limited – tea, coffee, a variety of other drinks (I saw alcoholic drinks on display, so I assume those will be available at suitable times), cakes and crisps. Nothing that requires cooking or, apart from tea and coffee, anything that requires any degree of preparation. Apparently, the café is looking for a chef, whereupon a full menu will be offered, so, if you know of a chef who is looking for work, please point him or her in the right direction! Judging by the admittedly short time I was there, when the only customers were me and my wife, they are not currently over busy. The sooner they get busy, the better, as the café and Landmark as a whole are now run as a commercial concern and we are unlikely to see much more activity there unless the managers can see a potential profit.
And finally, an elderly lady, living in Hillington, has received a letter from the planning officer of NDDC advising that she has 21 days to comment on plans for a 12.5 metre mast which it is proposed to erect next to her bungalow. 12.5 metres is just over 41 feet and is about twice as high as a modern lamppost nearby. I suppose the mast is for communications, possibly mobile phone, but does it have to be so close to a home? After all, it’s not as though there is not a lot of open space around our town.
Also, the lady tells me that no other neighbour that she has asked has received a similar notice. Why is this? Is she considered the only person having an interest in whether a 41 foot mast is erected in their neighbourhood?