European Lessons

DemocracyThe elections for Europe are over. Will the politicians really react to the will of the people? It’s doubtful. Instead we will see a shift in emphasis as the big parties try to demonstrate that they understand. It’s unlikely that they will really address the real issues. There will not be a vacuum but the discontent will continue, merely subdued for a time.

UKIP have a struggle ahead. Practically a one-person party, with Farage (as in garage) leading the way and dominating the media. They need to grow up immediately. Th media have treated them badly during this election, demanding answers to improbable questions whilst raking through the dust stirred up by opportunists who had joined their party.

Politicians tend to be a sordid bunch so UKIP are no worse than the rest, with a similarly dirty selection of perverts, thieves and liars.

There are too many career politicians. In truth that has always been the case. The ruling elite controlling with arrogance, corrupt rotten boroughs ensuring that power was kept within bounds. During the last century we saw the rise of mob rule, with a loud-mouth being sufficient to hold sway. The middle ground, if politics ever was a straight line, has been fought over with policies thought to be attractive to the electorate being sufficient to hold power.

During those years we have seen half of British industry be destroyed or sold to foreign interests, and our nationalised industries plundered. The British peasant, ever tolerant and submissive, has been willing to share an ever-smaller crust of the national cake with others.

They have accepted asylum seekers, and been tolerant of the stupid decision, taken back in 1955, that 880 million Commonwealth citizens had the right to live in Britain. Having lost so many of our native stock it was seen as a way to rebuild our country after a disastrous and destructive war. The British people accepted those newcomers. Now we are noticing our place is getting too crowded.

Mistakes were made. There was no real attempt at integration. Ghettos were created. Any sense of nationalism was frowned upon, and so pride was replaced by bigotry. Slowly we all adapted to the changes that came with an increasingly multicultural country.

The European concept seemed sound. After two major wars centered upon Europe the need to integrate and cooperate was admirable. Nobody wanted another war. Or did they? Probably not Europeans but that Johnny-come-lately from across the Pond had other ideas.

The Cold War kept us all in fear for over four decades. We were all about to die. The Bomb became a black cloud over all our lives. It allowed the arms industry to replace itself, to grab more of our resources to create even more terrible killing machines.

Since the last great European War the United States of America has not stopped creating conflict. Involvement in over 200 skirmishes has meant the US arms industry has built the world’s largest army, spending over 4% of the USA’s national wealth each year, and with a rippling effect across the world. We all spend too much on killing machines, with too many made in the USA, UK and Israel.

Some of those ill-gotten gains have been used to exploit other industries. The UK and European expertise has soon found itself used by the USA. The Internet is no longer an information exchange but a commercial vehicle to exploit us all, and the USA companies now tend to dominate, and avoid paying their due in Europe.

Given a few bob we all become arrogant. Dismissive of the people who don’t have very much, and very willing to exploit the weak and powerless.

Your clothes are but one small example. If you or your family had to grow the raw materials, then process and make these clothes you would not be able to afford to buy as many. You can do so because we exploit the poor. Ever has it been thus. The British worker was little more than a slave 150 years ago. Wretched and poor whilst being exploited by the few. Look into the history of the owners of the many grand houses now kept by the National Trust – an ironic legacy that has the new poor supporting the old rich. It is now the poor living elsewhere that we use, helped by an unequal transport network.

What is the solution? It’s a complex social problem. Not helped as we still use 19th Century economic exploitative systems so we see a small proportion of people in possession of too much money, and through that money comes power.

Immediately we should insist that the BBC, and much of the media, stop assiduously reporting on USA affairs, businesses and celebrities. For a small young country of just 350 million souls they have too much. Too much power, they are like teenagers in their parent’s car. Too much money.

Poverty could be stopped very quickly. An internationally-agreed income for everyone could be a start. We should all share in the world’s profit. That share should not depend our labour being given to someone else to exploit.

Back to the BBC: when do they tell us anything about Europe? Over 500 million neighbours and we know very little about them. Replacing US news items with those from Europe would help.

Schumaker, way back in 1960s, said that small is beautiful. Indeed it is. If we are to have an acceptable form of democracy it must start at the lowest level. Decisions by the local community. That does not mean representative democracy. Electing for five years, as happened in my area, a person who had never been to my county before being elected, but was chosen by a hidden cartel on the basis of support for a given political colour, is not enough. My requests are easily ignored.

Political parties hate referenda. They cut away their sources of power. Given sufficient information a group of people can use consensus to form a workable decision. We now have the technology, to to quote a phrase. It’s time we started to use it to create a new form of democracy.

Suffolk Coastal’s Social Class

Suffolk Coastal Plan logoSuffolk Coastal District Council is planning to introduce a Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) and have appointed Peter Brett Associates to assess development viability in their areas and recommend CIL charging rates.

Why have these consultants been appointed – or conversely why do we employ some many Planning Officers if they can’t make these assessments? Peter Brett are a large national company advising on development, environment and public services.

The first problem for such folk is that they know very little about our area. They have to research and rely upon what they are told.

The Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) allows Council to charge money to cover the cost of infrastructure costs incurred from a new development. You may know about S.106, which does a similar job, but forget about that for now.

Immediately weasel words appear in such documents and we find phrases such as ‘Striking the Appropriate Balance’ which really means that economic benefits will outdo any community requirements. Frighteningly for Felixstowe it means we have all been downgraded. Compared to the rest of the Suffolk Coastal area we are lowly peasants living in mean little houses.

There’s a division between the rich who live in Framlingham and Aldeburgh, the middle-income folk of Kesgrave, Saxmundham and Hollesley (would you believe) and the peasants of Leiston and Felixstowe. (don’t believe me? It’s all in the reports).

It gets worse.

Now we have classified our residents, the rich, the middle and the poor planning decisions can be made.

As more houses will be built in poorer areas (like Felixstowe and Leiston) the CIL charged can be lower. It will be a charge based on per square metre of home. The legislation suggests, ‘A charging authority’s proposed rate or rates should be reasonable, given the available evidence, but there is no requirement for a proposed rate to exactly mirror the evidence …… There is room for some pragmatism.’

Suffolk Coastal have seized upon that. Charges in Felixstowe will be half those in Aldeburgh.

It gets worse. Every town in the country is now skirted by ‘little boxes that all look the same’. Developers have just a few plans that they use for every development. Roads are narrow, local amenities kept to a minimum as are house sizes – where a bedroom is a space for a bed, nothing else, just a bed. Of vital importance is the aesthetic and environmental impact of these buildings. They tend to look awful, with windows stuck up underneath the roof to save having to insert an extra joist for the window. Brick choice is dependent upon price. Everything is about price, so it all all cheap and nasty, and will soon deteriorate. There’s no provision for energy saving, or creating, no idea about grey water usage, no public open space, nothing that will do more than meet minimum requirements.

That’s especially the case in the ‘poor’ areas of Felixstowe and Leiston.

More pain as building one house means you will pay £20 sq.metre more than the big fat developer who can produce more than six houses at a time. An extra penalty on building your own home, which allows people to build cheaply, and brings wonderful diversity to the urban area.

There’s much more to discuss but do take a look yourself – and be ready to respond to the Council (don’t expect they will take much notice).

Suffolk Coastal say (see

‘Public consultation on the preliminary draft CIL Charging Schedule will run for a period of 6 weeks from Wednesday 21 May until 5pm on Wednesday 2 July 2014.

The draft document proposes a range of different charges for types and sizes of developments expected across the district including new residential and retail schemes. The standard charges proposed are non-negotiable and are not expected to make future developments unviable. You can view the draft document by following the link below:

Preliminary draft CIL Charging Schedule consultation document (PDF 432KB)

If you wish to make comments you are encouraged to do so by using the representation form (PDF 86KB) we have provided or you can make your comments online via our online consultation system.

Please return completed forms to the Planning Policy and Delivery Team, Suffolk Coastal District Council, Melton Hill, Woodbridge, IP12 1AU or alternatively via email to before the consultation closes at 5pm on Wednesday 2 July.

Following the public consultation period we will amend the CIL Charging Schedule and then undertake a further round of public consultation, scheduled for the autumn, before the document is submitted to the Planning Inspectorate for Examination in Public.

We envisage that the CIL Charging Schedule will be brought into effect by April 2015 in line with government regulations.
Further information

For further information on the public consultation or any aspects of the consultation document please contact the Planning Policy and Delivery Team on 01394 444558 or

Community Infrastructure Levy

Website approved by the Plain English Campaign

Brettong>Statement of Community Involvement

Peter Brett Associates LLP suggests it provides trusted advice to create value from the land and buildings owned or operated by our clients. Together, we create better places for the communities in which we work.

Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley

Project Gutenberg allows free download of some of his titles:

A free download of Brave New World is available at

Wikipedia (as always) provides a useful starting point:

Warning Signs 2009

I’m bad at cleaning and tidying, but it is necessary sometimes. Several years ago I initiated the CIC Association, aiming to provide a meeting place for people running community interest companies. There are now over 3,300 members.

Back in 2009 I posted a blog article on the CIC Association site – which is reproduced below. I stand by those remarks, as I remain stunned by the debacle that is now the Co-operative Bank. I wonder why the great British people seem unable to seize initiatives, but have sold off much of our national wealth and increasingly rely upon foreign management. It’s time to fight back.

Anyway, this is the article I posted on 4 February 2009:

‘The current economic collapse has been a long time coming. Releasing financial, especially currency, controls some years ago led to an explosion of speculation, conspicuously with hedge funds, but insurance, mutual funds, pension funds and banks have all been feeding from a trough that grew exponentially. Described as the service sector it was little better than gamblers sitting round a table on a Mississipi paddle steamer. It makes no real contribution to our wealth. It produces nothing. These gamblers were able to reduce risk whilst handling huge sums of money because financial controls were removed. It’s tempting to talk of capitalism but to do so is to also highlight the alternatives used in the past and I have no wish to suggest that they will work any better.

That system is now reeling, and will take some time to recover because the mass of the population don’t have the means to assist right now. It will take time to recover by using our tax receipts. It’s easy to forget that a small number of billionaires own half the world’s wealth, and little is done to reduce that inequality. Indeed the relatively prosperous West can see the real dangers to us all if the rest of the world were ever to have our standards of living, and that’s the excuse that allows greed to continue unabated. Nevertheless we are all still begging crumbs from the masters’ tables, and they will fight hard to maintain their superiority.

Yet nation states are close to bankruptcy, with no strategic plan in place that will ensure a future, other than more taxes, let’s keep our heads down, throw borrowed money into the fire and hope it will go away when the global economy recovers. Hardly an encouraging approach.

There are signs of rebellion. The use of foreign workers is being questioned. American unions (at least) are talking about encouraging folk to buy US products. Globalisation no longer looks so attractive (if it ever did).

As community interest companies we could be in the vanguard of social change. That’s not an impossible dream. Given a modicum of support we have already demonstrated that we can be competitive – and I use that word in a very broad sense, for we don’t just make money, we provide social worth that cannot be matched by the conventional commercial model. We respond to demand, and that is often a response to need. There’s a social awareness that is clearly lacking elsewhere.

This is not the place for a vindictive analysis of the weaknesses of the individualistic capitalist system we’ve endured since the growth of Empire. Instead we need to recognise the importance of our joint endeavours. Each CIC has a small sphere of influence, and a direct concern to operate within a chosen sector. Collectively there is synergy. We can influence the power brokers. We can institute change. We need networks such as this embryo association in order to do so. There will be many battles ahead. If our approach is seen to work. If we do provide the products and services that people require then those we replace will not be happy bunnies – and they are skilled at fighting back for their’s is a competitive world, with no holds barred.’

Still much to do despite the green shoots: Small is still beautiful.


Sabine Baring Gould

Mehalah ebook

Sabine Baring-Gould’s life is a story in itself, with his unconventional childhood, his marriage to a mill-girl half his age and his dedication to antiquarian pursuits alongside his life as squire and parson. He was one of the top ten novelists of his time, also writing prolifically on travel, religion, historical figures and on many other topics. Over 1200 publications are listed in his bibliography.

He was an early archaeologist, respected for his work on Dartmoor, in Cornwall, in Wales and in France. He was also a folklorist, but he regarded his greatest achievement to be his collection of songs, most of them heard from singers in Devon and Cornwall. Beside his writing he re-created the twin hearts of his beloved parish of Lew Trenchard – his home, Lew House and the beautiful little church of St Peter, Lewtrenchard. For these he was his own architect.

At his death in 1924 he largely dropped out of the public’s memory and, if he was remembered at all, it would have been for his best known hymns such as ‘Onward, Christian soldiers’ and ‘Now the day is over’. In recent years members of the Sabine Baring-Gould Appreciation Society, with the help of the descendants of his 15 children, have searched out forgotten manuscripts and letters which help to give a better picture of the life of this remarkable man.

I re-edited his text of Mehalah whilst living on Mersea Island in 1990s.  At that time it was out of print, and I thought it was too good to be lost. Mersea Island sits off the mudflats of Essex, with its causeway flooded at high tides. That gives it some exclusivity. The families included in his story are still to be found on the island.

It’s not for me to say, or allege, but he clearly had an affiliation with the wild gypsy girl who is the heroine of the tale. I’m not willing to speculate further.

He was Vicar at East Mersea at the time. He disliked the place and had low regard for its people. They remain grateful that he has left an accurate record of life in 1880-90s

I’ve also produced an ebook.

Co-operation in the East

East of England Co-op logoI went to the AGM of the East of England Co-operative Society on Saturday.

An interesting event yet one that left me both confused and concerned.

The co-operative movement is in some turmoil. Most people do not understand that there are as many as 500 different co-operatives. The East of England is a retailer, and has strong links with the the main co-op, based in Manchester. See Co-operatives UK for some explanation.

Importantly the East of England uses a centralised buying system. This brings some advantages, and is probably useful in negotiations with major manufacturers. It does not offer much flexibility, and is certainly not much concerned with buying goods locally. That’s a common complaint that can be levelled against all supermarkets.

The Co-op (in its broadest sense) has played a part in many of our lives. I’ve been a Co-op member all my life, and my parents also collected their ‘Divi’. It was the place we turned to for goods and services, for spectacles, chemist supplies, travel, even funerals, and a co-op retail store was often to be found within walking distance of your home.

That sense of community involvement has been degraded in recent years. In Fore Street, Ipswich the East of England Education Centre was the hub for a plethora of local groups. That’s been downgraded and instead, it would appear, that funds are being used to support charities and local causes instead. There’s dangers in that approach. The promotional marketing message gets lost. It’s no longer the Co-op that doing it for us, they are no better than any commercial sponsor. As importantly the individual member no longer has any choice. It’s the Board of Directors who decide what should be supported. That degrades the sense of involvement.

A few years ago the East of England Co-op decided to move away from selling general goods. Four hundred staff lost their jobs. Very bad commercial decisions were made, and money lost. The huge Co-op department store in Ipswich is now a forlorn shell. No explanation has ever been given to the membership.

It’s difficult to see where they are now heading. It should be determined by demand from its members, but there’s no way in which the Directors can measure that or be in contact with the membership.  They have lost contact. It appeared that they believe that property investment will provide opportunities. That needs skill, and how does it help Co-op members? They could help by building care homes for the elderly or community centres, or even enter the murky housing market. All would be more understandable than making money from renting out empty co-op shops.

Change is now required, but there’s an air of complacency. The Board does not appear to have any dynamism, there’s no exploratory proposals for members to consider. Instead members attending the AGM are given a glossy brochure, a PR exercise, that carefully avoids the fact that sales and profit are falling, and dividends are lower than a few years ago, and not paid in cash but in kind, at a store. Equally disturbing is that any community funding now has to ‘provide value’.

Many members are, to be frank, a bit old in the tooth. Nothing wrong with that, they have the time and money, and frequently want to get involved. They formed the backbone of the community structure that once bonded the co-operative movement. It’s a moan that I’ve presented to the Board for several years. You can’t stand for election to the Board of Directors if you are old! It’s ageist, and immoral. The Secretary did not answer my question at the AGM, instead fudging around the real issue.

The usual excuse is that they don’t want Directors to remain on the Board for ever. That’s not a valid reason. At least older people will disappear first, and all that is needed is to ensure Directors only stand for a certain period.

The complacency must disappear. Yet there’s great dangers. The Co-op Bank, and with it my beloved Britannia Building Society, has been stolen by US-based hedge funds. The management and Board of these co-ops are to blame. Like lambs to the slaughter they fell for the idea that making profit was of more importance than retaining, and building upon, the community spirit that made the co-op movement great.

There was a Motion to sell our shares in Co-op Bank. It was defeated. It opens an opportunity for further discussion. It’s not that difficult to start a bank, certainly East of England could do so easily (provided they hire relevant expertise). The marketing advantage that gives would reap great dividends, much better than foolish investments in commercial property.

I’d be keen to be part of a team (please don’t call it a committee!) to investigate such a proposal. I’ve a degree in economics, post-grad in new business development and a qualification in governance, been involved in starting several social enterprises, and sat on community infrastructure boards. I’m keen but old. Stroppy but innovative. A great team worker, not an egoist, and I’m poor.

Too often I’m ignored. You’ll regret it when I’m gone!


A D Wraight (Dolly Wraight)

A D WraightI first met Dolly Wraight when she taught at William Tyndale Primary School in Islington in 1975. There was a furore about the teaching methods being adopted and as a police sergeant in that area I came into contact with several of the teachers, including Dolly Wraight.

Years later we met again. This time it was at a meeting of the Richard III Society, an historical question that interested us both. I quickly discovered she was a woman of immense talent and her true value as an historian was revealed in her books about the Elizabethan poets and playwrights.

The Story The Sonnets Tell book coverShe wrote the best book about Shakespeare’s Sonnets: The Story the Sonnets Tell in which she painstakingly categorises the sonnets suggesting there were three sponsors: William Hatcliffe when he was elected ‘Prince of Purpoole’ by his fellow law students at Gray’s Inn, the young Earl of Southampton, for whom Lord Burghley commissioned 17 sonnets for his 17th birthday, and the man who could be called the True Patron, Thomas Walsingham, who was Christopher Marlowe’s patron.

Marlow is at the centre of much of Dolly’s research. She privately stated that Marlowe was the true author of Shakespeare’s work. Christopher Marlowe, the main creator of the Elizabethan blank verse drama, was allegedly murdered during a pub brawl in 1593, days before he was to be re-arrested for investigation by the Star Chamber – which meant torture, and probably death. He disappeared, and later research has shown that Marlowe and Shakespeare used used identical language and word techniques. In 1925 Leslie Hotson discovered Coroner Danby’s report on the murder of Christopher Marlowe, a report which in 1925 that proved to be a fake. In 1955 Calvin Hoffman suggested that the murder of Christopher Marlowe had been a set-up to save Marlowe’s life.

A.D.Wraight’s “The Story that the Sonnets Tell”, is the most thorough study of the Sonnets ever made and the only one successfully explaining the mysteries of most of them. Her work shows that the Sonnets fit Christopher Marlowe perfectly and no one else.

The suggestion is that Marlowe was not murdered but worked as a dramatist under the cover of William Shakespeare, maybe also under the cover of others like John Webster, perhaps collaborating with Beaumont & Fletcher, perhaps borrowing even other occasional names. If it was he, he most probably spent some years up in Lancashire under the protection of Derby, where he learned much of Lancashire expressions demonstrated in plays like “Hamlet”. And most probably, Francis Bacon must have been one of his associates and maybe his protector. Bacon and Derby had much legal business together.

This is a wonderfully complex story. A good account of the complex web is at It’s difficult to read, but clearly stated, and is less dismissive than many of the academic works, which often tend to be biased.

My copy of The Story that the Sonnets Tell is signed by Dolly ‘To Trevor – a very real guy! With admiration, Dolly’ that’s a compliment I treasure, and I’m glad to have spent time with this wonderful woman.

Grumpy Old Morning

There can be no better feeling
Than to be wanted by another
If only life was so simple
Often wants born of dependence
Of loneliness and fear
Giving payment for guilt
Pay back for pleasures before
Hidden truth from an encompassing world
perceiving sins mortification
Retain dreams of another world
Small delights chance remarks
Transport to sunnier places
No conscious choices need be made
What will be as nature decides
Joy is always there
if arms are opened to accept

I wrote this poem for a friend who seemed to be filling her life. That’s it. Accommodating others. Searching for what? She knew not.

We all have similar feelings. One small consolation about getting older is that you no longer really care. We realise that nobody really wants to know our opinions, we are lucky to get a ‘Yes dear’ invariably followed by a request to do something you promised to do, just two days ago.

It’s probably best to wallow in your own disappointment. There was so much you could have achieved, if only… Forget the excuses you could have done anything that you wanted, instead you chose to listen to the advice of others. More fool you.

Look instead at the good parts of your life, even if it’s only to realise that you don’t have much time left, so you don’t have to worry that the whole world is falling apart – and it’s doing that because they never listened to you!

Good parts for me remain with me every day. I have a skylight in my bedroom. No other windows, just this space which reveals the day to me, every morning. It’s better than television as it allows me to be my own weather forecaster. Is the sky blue, are the clouds moving? Has the early morning plane to Sweden gone overhead yet. I don’t know if it’s headed for Sweden, or even if it is the same plane.

Then the joy of being retired floods over me. I’m warm and comfy. What shall I do today? I take my time over this, it’s a pleasure to luxuriate. I do not have to do anything. I’m reluctant to make appointments these days. I often forget them in any case. That just makes me endearing. My real friends know I am difficult to contact. I had a letter today reminding of a lunch date I’d made with a friend. Very reassuring.

If I’m feeling strong enough I’ll switch on BBC Radio 4. I dislike John Humphrys, to much to say about that but just accept that he should be gone, he’s old enough. Never mind, I can listen for a while, building up my strength for the time when he interviews someone. He is dreadful. Single-minded, and he invariably misses the salient point. That’s OK, I can mumble my disgust, turn over and stretch. It’s clearly time to get out of bed.

Stumbling down the stairs I’m reminded that I’ve not made any plans for the day. Never mind: ablutions then breakfast. Then I’ll decide. Wonder what the weather’s like today?

Beer miles

Spa Pavilion Felixstowe

Unused Spa Pavilion

Unused Spa Pavilion

Today Suffolk Coastal District Council announced they are talking to a prospective client about the Spa Pavilion.

They have spent a fortune looking for a buyer, or a tenant, with no success. We know that a major pub chain has been looking around the town – like the Council we can’t say any more.

Our Council loves secrecy: they will not say how much they have sold (if they have) Felixstowe South to Bloor Homes, and no-one is told much about the balls-up that is the Seafront Gardens redesign.

Now we have the Spa Pavilion. This is our building. It is owned by the people, with SCDC (the Council) representing our interests. The latest press release says; ‘we think we have a buyer but you can’t know anything about it’.

It’s not democratic. If I suggested it was to become the Conservative Party HQ would you be surprised? Could you object or get that decision changed? How about a gaming parlour – release the one-armed bandits? That’s more difficult. In both cases sectional interests will decide, and then tell you what’s happened.

Sign the contract then issue a press release.

They did that with Bloor Homes. They’ve done it with the Seafront Gardens, except a Court has made them reveal a few truths.

This Suffolk Coastal District Council is far too big for its boots. It’s as close to a dictatorship as we can get.

The real trick is knowing who is really running the show? You could ask your Councillor. I did that about the Bloor Homes contract – all of them said they knew nothing about it. Was that the truth or just another lie?

The full SCDC press release says:

Suffolk Coastal’s search to find a new owner for the Spa Pavilion in Felixstowe has taken a positive step forward.

Following an extensive marketing campaign, the Council has selected a preferred bidder to possibly take over the premises, with plans to re-launch the venue on the seafront.

Suffolk Coastal is not revealing the identity of the preferred bidder at this stage, as no contract has been signed.

However, the Council is now working with the preferred bidder over the next three months to finalise the business case and agree terms. If an agreement is reached, a legal contract relating to the future of the Spa Pavilion is expected to be completed by November 2014, to allow for completion of some improvement works ahead of a possible Spring 2015 re-opening.

It can be confirmed that the intention of the bidder is to re-energise and re-launch the Spa Pavilion as a venue, along with a refurbished restaurant and other complimentary services.

Suffolk Coastal’s Cabinet Member, Cllr Geoff Holdcroft, said: “Nothing has been finalised at this stage, so we don’t want to get people’s hopes up too high, but this is definitely a very positive step towards ensuring the long-term future of this iconic building.”

“All through the process, I have remained cautiously optimistic that the Spa Pavilion can be reopened and now, hopefully, we can work with the preferred bidder to find a way forward to retain a revitalised Spa Pavilion, which will include a theatre and restaurant offering at the heart of Felixstowe.”

Suffolk Coastal has now entered into a three-month period of exclusive negotiations with the preferred bidder, lasting until the end of July, and hopes to be able to issue more information during the summer.


Bury St Edmunds

bury-st-edmunds-corn-exchangeThis capital of West Suffolk (Oh yes I still yearn for the old days when it was a County Town) remains a charming place to visit. Floral town, increasingly reliant upon volunteers as gardening staff are given the boot, it still oozes charm, despite the monstrous architecture housing retail greed upon the old Cattle Market (dreams of yesteryear now gone).

There’s always plenty going on, and yesterday there was International Rugby 7s and this week sees opera Cosi Fan Tutte, a George Formby lookalike, Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer, a cabaret with two East Anglia personalities Helen McDermott (Anglia TV) and Adrian Wright celebrating Noel Coward, and the final day of the Cycling five-day Women’s Tour, the country’s first ever international stage race for women and supported in Suffolk by brewers Adnams, is on Angel Hill in Bury St Edmunds on Sunday May 11.

All this in a town of just 35,000 people – about the same number who live in Felixstowe and the Colneis Peninsular. Why is this? True we had the vintage car rally along the promenade, but that starts in Ipswich. Felixstowe is so badly served by the local council that drinks in breweries are hard to find.

Bury St Edmunds has its own brewery, and upstairs in the old Corn Exchange Wetherspoons has transformed a dingy market area into a really pleasant restaurant. It’s clear that Wetherspoons recognise that we have no real history in Suffolk of spit and sawdust working mens clubs, as the decor is tasteful, in keeping with the Victorian design of the building.

The food and drink were a surprise. I’d read a review by Will Self, self-appointed critic of anything he judges will increase his notoriety, in which he belittles the Wetherspoon concept – that now has over 900 outlets, including hotels. Will Self clearly expects more than cask ales, low prices, long opening hours and no music. It is what it is – and that image is being improved. It certainly seems to work in Bury. I chose from a breakfast menu that was just £2.99, having porridge with a complete banana freshly sliced and honey, and a cup of tea. Will Self is clearly more used to tea at Claridges.

For me it was perfect, quiet, clean, good service, reasonable food and drink at surprisingly cheap prices. Greene King IPA at £1.99 a pint is competitive. Most pubs in Felixstowe are now hovering around £4.

Unused Spa Pavilion

Unused Spa Pavilion

I’m not one to spread rumours (ha ha) but I’ve heard from several sources that a large pub chain, British-owned, is looking at the Spa Pavilion as a new outlet. A good move, in my opinion. Of course I can’t reveal which pub chain is interested in this publicly-owned asset.