How rumours start

This week has been pretty chocka with meetings, what with panels, full council and area committees already happened, and member-officer steering groups and member development still to come. As well as giving councillors a formal way of debating policy, they also bring us together informally, and that’s when corridor gossip begins.

After tea at Full Council (pan-fried salmon, chocolate roulade, cheese) Labour Cllr C asked me a throwaway question en passant:  “Have officers talked to you about the proposed changes to the Development Control Ctte?”

My hackles were instantly raised.  Changes?  What changes? Does this impact on me?  Is my party being removed still further from the locus of control?  Are the officers trying to get rid of DC’s awkward squad?

When I put all these into words, making it clear that the subject was totally new to me, the councillor backed off sharpish and told me not worry.  Nothing would come of any such proposals, and it shouldn’t be a problem to me.

Which, of course, just left me even more worried.  Not only were these changes clearly about to happen, but also I wouldn’t get to have a say in the outcomes!

So, I asked Tory Cllr C what he had heard.  Had he had private meetings with officers to discuss changes to Development Control?  His reaction was almost a mirror of mine.  Not only had he had no such meetings, he was deeply concerned that any such meetings were happening without him, and would surely eventually be presented as a fait accompli with no room for manoeuvre.

And, being a councillor with many more years of experience of local government than me, he was able to fill me in on the ramifications of what it meant last time there was a reorganisation of development control, with a small pliable subcommittee where all the important decisions were taken away from the glare of full on scrutiny.

Then I went home and thought nothing further about it.

Until this afternoon, two days later, when, at the rise of my area committee, Cllr W came over and said he’d heard I knew all about the plans to reorganise development control.

This is getting a little out of hand, and I’m probably not going to hear the last of it, because when DC does finally meet, I’m going to have to send my apologies – I will be in Brighton.

By which point the committee will probably be discussing “Cllr Foster’s plans to reform DC”…

Underage drinkers in Liberal England

Jonathan Calder reports that Tim Martin, the successful Wetherspoons entrepreneur has been talking about the crackdown on underage drinking.

As Jonathan quotes,

Martin said that the crackdown on underage drinking had in many ways proved counterproductive. Earlier generations of teenagers had learned about alcohol through drinking beer in pubs from the age of about 16. Though their presence there was technically illegal, no one worried about it too much as long as they behaved themselves.

Previous generations, including mine, learned to drink beer in pubs under the watchful eyes of other generations of drinkers. We did it before we were technically old enough, but certainly after we looked old enough.  The restraint was built in, because if we pushed it too far, and drank too much, we would call too much attention to ourselves and lose the privilege of being allowed to drink.

An argument can be made for allowing teenagers a little under 18 to do their drinking in pubs.  Firstly it takes them away from street corners and neighbourhood parks where they disturb communities.

Secondly it brings them into a more formal culture of drinking where there is some oversight from the more responsible.  In a park or on a street corner there is no-one to tell you when you’ve had enough.  You’re more likely to be drinking cheap spirits than beer, and the physical damage you can do to yourself is considerable, in relatively little time.  In a pub, there are restraints, both the informal watchful eyes of more responsible drinkers, and also the formal constraints on bar staff who are not supposed to serve intoxicated patrons.  And both the choice of drink, and how much you consume, are reigned in by cost considerations.

Unfortunately where this breaks down is another trend in licensed premises that I think has happened in the relatively few years since I have been drinking, and that’s the rise in the monoculture.

It’s all very well to see pubs in the nostalgic glow of the village pub where wildly different people come together of an afternoon for a slow, comfortable pint around the fire, with the dog sleeping on the hearthrug and the barman polishing pint mugs on his apron.  I suspect that much of the drinking both I and Jonathan Calder do is in pubs that fit this sort of description.

However your average yoof is more likely to be drawn to a huge pub warehouse affair with loud music and far too many patrons making too much noise. Conversation is impossible, and the bar staff have no hope of carrying out their responsibility of not serving intoxicated patrons or keeping a vague mental list of what people have had already.  There is no oversight from older generations to keep behaviour in check because older generations feel excluded by the noise and music.  Drinks promotions bring the costs of spirits in line with the costs of beer, and any advantage there may have been in drinking in licensed premises is eroded.

The licensing laws are a blunt instrument for influencing this.  Could we ever have different rules for the “right” sort of pub introducing leeway for younger drinkers in places where they can ease gently into responsible drinking culture?  Perhaps Jonathan’s conclusion that yesteryear’s drinking cultures are swept away and are not easy to return.

How much water?

Someone on Cix was surprised by a water bill which he calculated meant he was using 200 pints of water a day.

Picturing a pint is not difficult – we can see it in terms of beer or milk.  But tell someone they have a 210 litre hot water tank or that a washing machine uses 60 litres of water per wash, and they flounder a bit.

Here are some handy comparisons:

1 litre = 2 pints

10 litres = a toilet flush = bucket of water

A power shower is using the equivalent of having a bucket of water thrown over you every thirty seconds.  So if you wallow under the hot water every morning, and you have a powerful shower, you may actually be using far more water than if you had a bath.
60 litres = a washing machine cycle = a water butt

240 litres = a wheelie bin = (roughly) a modern hot water tank

Any more?  UMRA will be particularly interested in sightings of unorthodox units like “swimming-pools per minute” and so on.


Ooh, how exciting – I’ve been nominated for an award.

It’s clearly a sop to make me make up my mind in favour of going to conference!

You can see the people I’m up against in the shortlist announcement.  I’m not being falsely modest when I say I don’t expect to win.  I’m in august company, including Millennium Elephant, who was in the running for Blog of the Year last year, and Don Liberali, who has… ways… of… influencing outcomes.

There’s public voting for “best design” category, but my category will be decided by an eminent panel of judges.  Nailbiting.

Now to go and see if I can remember how to edit my template.

TGV at St P

I’m watching BBC News 24’s coverage of the inaugural journey of the Eurostar along the high speed line to St Pancras – and I’m more excited than I really ought to be. We had vague plans to use the new service to Brussels later this year, but I suspect that will have to be put back til next year.

It is a bit of a national embarrassment that the only high speed rail in this country runs from London to the Channel Tunnel. I remember reading, but can’t now source, a factoid along the lines of 5,000kms of high speed track have been built in continental Europe in the time it’s taken us to get around 150kms from London to Dover. So, I’m very glad to hear that there are Lib Dem proposals to build more high speed track in this country, and look forward to hearing more about it.

UPDATE: Just heard on the hourly news they plan to drop the Bxl service.  That’s disappointing – don’t really want to go back to Paris right now, but haven’t been to Brussels since 2001.

Your favourite British beach


You and Yours have been running an end of summer item in their programme asking people to nominate their favourite beach in the British Isles.

I thought I’d add my tuppence.

In recent years, it has to be the ten miles of sand running from Barmouth to Shell Island. On a sunny day, it’s gorgeous: miles of golden sand, ringed by mountains, and with the beautiful and unique SSSI in the dunes teeming with all sorts of weird looking plants.

However, for all my firm belief about the specialness and uniqueness of the place, I’m currently resisting the idea from friends that we should go there to camp in October. I think you’d have to be crazy!

Shower technology

We’ve bitten the bullet and decided to go ahead with the solar panel. It should be up by the end of next week. I’ve also requested a special controller that lets me keep a log of how well the panel is working. We’re not really going to find out over the autumn and winter, although it will make some difference to our gas usage.

In going ahead, I’ve learned that showers are much more complicated than they look.

Currently, we have a simple electric shower. Cold water at mains pressure goes into a little white box and comes out hot.

But with a solar panel heating our water it makes sense to have a shower fed by the hot water tank. This means more options than I’d ever thought about before.

We could have a pressurised hot water system, with the hot water tank at the same pressure as the cold mains. This would mean that the hot water tank could heat the water over 100 deg C – getting the maximum possible out of the solar panel. But the setup costs are much more expensive, so this gets ruled out.

Which leaves us with a gravity fed hot water tank, with a header tank relocated to the attic to give some pressure, but not as much as mains pressure. You can’t mix mains pressure cold water with a lower pressure hot water system, so some sort of clever has to go on in the bathroom.

You could have a separate cold water feed in the bathroom, also fed from a header tank. But this means an extra run of piping.

You could put a pump on the hot water system to bring up the hot water system to the same pressure as the cold water system. I was a bit worried about this option because it seems to me that it might be a way of using the water up quicker, and emptying all the hot out of the tank.

The last – and simplest – solution is to put a pressure limiting valve on the cold water feed to take it down to the pressure of the hot water. I think this is what we’ll be doing.