A Suburban Serenade

It happened! Possibly not one of the daftest ideas I’ve had, but must be one of the dafter ideas I’ve pursued.


Just before 3pm on a warm and muggy Sunday afternoon in September, the 12 members of Sine Nomine (one of the tenors couldn’t make it) drove to Elgar Close in east Exeter, wondering whether we would find any audience waiting for us. We did. And as we walked around the streets named after English composers, singing music by each on their street corner, we gathered more and more. A group of about 30-40 aged between 2 and 72 travelled with us all the way round, some responding to the leaflets through their doors, others walking past and spontaneously joining us. Many stopped what they were doing to listen, popping out of their front doors and garden gates, and appearing at windows.

As we sang and walked and sang, Sunday afternoon was happening around us: lawnmowers, cars apologetically making their way between choir and audience, planes overhead. Between corners, the audience and choir chatted about the music, the estate, being brought up in the area, or never having been to this bit of Exeter before. Not quite the Lord of Misrule and the overturning of all ordinary behaviour, but permission still given for conversation and overt curtain twitching.


One enthusiastic lady on the corner of Sullivan Road suggested we sing on her lawn, obviously determined to video us in front of her house. There were many cameras, and many photos and videos taken that we will never see, and memories we will never know.  I hope I retain many memories, but perhaps the one that stands out is of the lad of about 4 who came all the way round with his Mum and younger sister, and stood listening intently at every corner.

Then after the final notes of Britten’s “Hymn to St Cecilia” died away on the playing field at Britten Drive, we walked back to our cars and were waved off by some of the audience as we headed back to my house for tea and cake.

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Big thanks to Chris and Josie for getting the choir and music together, to all the members of the choir, to Councillors Henson and Leadbetter and Exeter City Council for supporting the venture financially, to the Council again for letting us gatecrash the Unexpected Exeter Festival and providing a bit of publicity, and of course to the audience!



Devon County Twouncillors

Following my post on Exeter City Twouncillors, here’s another listing the Devon County Councillors – sorry only those in Exeter for the time being.

Here’s my Devon County Twitter list, to which you can subscribe to follow the conversation in Exeter, and all councillors’ contact details on the Devon County Council website.

Councillor Division Political party Twitter handle
Andrew Leadbetter St Loyes & Topsham Conservative  
Percy Prowse Duryard & Pennsylvania Conservative  
Andy Hannan Priory & St Leonard’s Labour @andyhannan
Emma Morse Pinhoe & Mincinglake Labour @CllrEmmaMorse
Jill Owen St David’s & St James Labour  
Olwen Foggin Heavitree & Whipton Barton Labour @olwenfoggin
Richard Westlake Newtown & Polsloe Labour @WestlakeRichard
Rob Hannaford Exwick & St Thomas Labour @RobMHannaford *
Roy Hill Alphington & Cowick Labour  

* Hasn’t tweeted yet – please encourage!



Exeter City Twouncillors

I have been impressed in recent weeks at the usefulness of Twitter in engaging with councillors and other movers and shakers in and around Exeter City Council. Within limits, though, as you’ll be able to see from the list below arranged by political party. (Please let me know if I’ve missed any.) It’s a shame that few of the @ExeterTories are individually on Twitter, not least because two of them are the councillors in my ward. Maybe it’s a policy, but they and their ‘constituents’ are missing out.

@TweetyHall aimed to  “Getting councillors out of the Town Hall and onto the Tweets”. On its [now defunct] website it said “We are passionately committed to local democracy and see Twitter as one key way to connect local residents with views and opinions on their local area with the people empowered to help them do something about it. TweetyHall helps join the dots.” Sounds good to me… Who’s doing this now?

Here’s my Exeter City Twitter list, to which you can subscribe to follow the conversation, and all councillors’ contact details on the Exeter City Council website.

Councillor Political party Ward Twitter handle
Andrew Leadbetter Conservative St Loyes  
David Henson Conservative St Loyes  
Jake Donovan Conservative Pennsylvania @CllrJakeDonovan
John Winterbottom Conservative St Leonards  
Lee Mottram Conservative Duryard @parklanegarden
Margaret Baldwin Conservative Topsham  
Norman Shiel Conservative St Leonards  
Percy Prowse Conservative Duryard  
Rob Newby Conservative Topsham  
Tyna Crow Conservative Heavitree @tynacrow
Yolonda Henson Conservative Polsloe  
Catherine Dawson Labour Mincinglake @cllrdawson
Gill Tippins Labour Priory @GillTippins
Greg Sheldon Labour Heavitree @CllrGregSheldon
Heather Morris Labour Cowick @CLLRMORRIS
Ian Martin Labour Mincinglake @ian0martin
Keith Owen Labour St James  
Lesley Robson Labour Priory @CllrRobson
Marcel Choules Labour Priory  
Margaret Clark Labour Alphington  
Moira Macdonald Labour Pinhoe @neBhasikoro
Ollie Pearson Labour Exwick @olliepearson
Paul Bull Labour Cowick @Paul4Cowick
Peter Edwards Labour Whipton Barton @CllrPeteEdwards *
Philip Bialyk Labour Exwick @philbialyk
Rachel Lyons Labour Polsloe  
Rachel Sutton Labour Exwick @CllrSutton
Richard Branston Labour Newtown  
Rob Crew Labour Alphington @Rob4Alphington
Rob Hannaford Labour St Thomas @RobMHannaford *
Roger Spackman Labour Newtown @cllrspackman
Rosie Denham Labour Whipton Barton @rosiedenham
Sarah Laws Labour St Davids  
Simon Bowkett Labour Pinhoe @Simon_Bowkett
Tony Wardle Labour Whipton Barton  
Adrian Fullam Liberal Democrats St Thomas @AdrianFullam
Kevin Mitchell Liberal Democrats St James  
Rod Ruffle Liberal Democrats Alphington  
Stella Brock Liberal Democrats St Davids @StellaBrock8 *
Tim Payne Liberal Democrats Pennsylvania  

* Hasn’t tweeted yet – please encourage!

Updated: Added a few I’d missed that didn’t come up in Twitter search, including the three Conservatives.



The quite interesting-ness of pillar boxes

EX2 369 Exeter's only Edward VIII pillar box!

The caption for this photo I found on Flickr says this is the only Edward VIII pillar box in Exeter. Another photo says it is the only one in Devon. The box is just down the road from me in an estate built in 1936 to rehouse people from the Exeter slums. Edward VIII’s short reign – he came to the throne in January 1936 and abdicated in December 1936 – means that not many EVIIIR post boxes were made. (There are even fewer EVR boxes.) So far, so quite interesting.

But look up post boxes on the internet, and you stumble into a strange and fascinating place. There are websites dedicated to finding and photographing all the EVIIIR post boxes in the country. There is the Letter Box Study Group, the “the recognised definitive authority on the British letter box”, and its “Letter Box Study Group newsletter”, no better fodder for Have I Got News For You. It is the weird and wonderful world of the Great British Enthusiast, a place where interesting things in unlikely places become codified, classified, and nerdified. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here, for ye are passing through the gate of Hell where the interesting-ness of any subject is electronically extracted and transmogrified into tables of data and forum discussions! On the other hand, without the dedication of this nerdy few, who have counted EVIIIR boxes and noted their distribution and rarity, how would the many know that there might be something of quite interesting-ness at all?

Amusingly, when I posted about the box on Facebook, both of the responses I received were by private message rather than public comment, as though ashamed of their, or their friend’s, interest. So for any secret spotters out there, the pillar box code number is EX2 369, and the map shows its location.

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Response from Hugo Swire MP

[Further update on 24 February 2014]

I received a further letter dated 8 January 2014. I am at a loss what this was in response to… maybe this post, and my link to it on Twitter on 4 September.

I’m still with the bishops.

[Substantially rejigged on 5 September 2013]

Finally, on 3 September I received a letter dated 21 August (pdf) in response to mine of 2 August. Some comments:

He, or one of his staff, writes “I am mindful that food banks should not become a political football.” I agree. Care for the weakest and poorest among us should be a base line characteristic of a civilised society. The problem is, for the rest of the letter he attempts to do a few keepie-uppies and pass his way out of defence, but plays the man and not the ball. I am not necessarily a Labour supporter; I suspect my sympathies lie with the Green Party if any. But the Coalition has been the Government for more than three years now, and I am fed up with the use of pathetic attacks on the previous Labour government as a smoke-screen for the paucity of and lack of coherence in its policy.

One of my friends, on reading the letter, commented: “That reply show complete lack of understanding, knowledge or empathy – whoever wrote it should look at data published today showing that over 4 million people in work receive less than the living wage.”

The Church Action on Poverty and Oxfam report “Walking the Breadline: The scandal of food poverty in 21st-century Britain”, among many good arguments, makes this point in the Executive Summary: “Some of the increase in the number of people using food banks is caused by unemployment, increasing levels of underemployment, low and falling income, and rising food and fuel prices. The National Minimum Wage and benefits levels need to rise in line with inflation, in order to ensure that families retain the ability to live with dignity and can afford to feed and clothe themselves and stay warm.”

So Swire is mistaken when he writes, “As work is the surest route out of poverty…”. Work should be a route, yes, but many of the people who have to go to food banks already have work. It’s just not adequately paid. Addressing inequality (preferably via pay, but taxation is an alternative) is the surest route out of poverty.

He continues “…I have high hopes that these measures [Universal Credit] will improve the standard of living across the country and reduce the number of people who feel the need to go to food banks.” Now is it just me, or shouldn’t important policy such as the benefits system be based on firm evidence and analysis rather than “high hopes”? And “feel the need” is just insulting. As though parents who have no money to feed their children, because their pay is not enough to meet their necessary outgoings or the benefits system has cocked up their payments again, have any other option. Oh, those feckless ne’er-do-wells!

Rt Hon Hugo Swire MP, I challenge you to visit a food bank and talk to – no, don’t talk, practise empthy and listen to – the people who have to use it as a lifeline. 


“I have a dream” … for Exeter Bus Station!

I have a dream for the bus station site, or at least for the area bounded by Paris Street, Sidwell Street and Cheeke Street, if not the bus depot off Summerland Street.

I have a dream of a vibrant local ‘Market Quarter’, less Princesshay, more Gandy Street;
Of a mix of local retail, local business, charities and social entrepreneurs, artists’ studios and housing;
Of deliberately quirky architecture and winding streets that lead onward in a voyage of discovery;
Opening out into truly public space for public meeting, public meetings, and farmers’ markets.

I have a dream of zero-carbon buildings using shared services, based on the latest and best practice;
Of edible landscaping, nut and fruit trees, and herbs for all to pick;
Of a (non-edible) green screen to clean the air of bus exhausts;
And of artists’ interpretation to educate and delight and welcome.

I have a nightmare that it will be another alocal amoral* superstore and car parking.

* a- : Prefix used to indicate a lack of some feature that might be expected.


No response from Hugo Swire MP

As I tweeted, I’ve received no direct response from Hugo Swire MP to my letter about the family from Clyst St George needing to walk 11 miles to Exeter Foodbank and back. Instead, I found a post toeing the party line. Plus, it’s undated, so it could have been written before I even put fingers to keyboard.

I expect he will also ignore my tweets and the RTs and replies I have received, as his Twitter profile says it’s for FCO puffs only. Well, it doesn’t say ‘puffs’ – you know what I mean. But that’s not really how Twitter works. It’s really tempting to ask #devonhour to bombard him with encouragement to use Twitter for engagement with constituents, or even set up a pastiche @HugoSwireMP account – although it’s probably illegal to impersonate an MP (I can’t be bothered to Google that). Mind you, if I get sent to gaol, I might be in the cell next to Caroline Lucas MP. Ah, the workings of a modern techno-democracy!

I just want to live in a country that cares about poverty, inequality and injustice.


Exeter Library Square

At the end of July, the Express & Echo ran an online poll asking readers what new Exeter Library Square should be called. Here’s my version of the story reporting the results.

Less than one-quarter of respondents to the poll voted for “Prince George Square”, even though the royal birth has been almost constantly in the media for the past two weeks.

“Bideford Witches Square”, which would recognise the last three people to be executed for witchcraft in England, was at almost level pegging. Temperance Lloyd, Mary Trembles and Susannah Edwards are commemorated on a plaque nearby at Rougemont Castle.

Although in only third and fourth place, “JK Rowling Square” and “Bodleian Square” have perhaps the best cases. Rowling studied at Exeter University, and the author of Harry Potter, The Casual Vacancy, and The Cuckoo’s Calling has an obvious link to the library. Thomas Bodley was born in Heavitree and gave his name to the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

Most of the other candidates were a mix of famous Exeter names and organisations. As an indication of the weight that Exeter City Council should place on the poll, “The square that’s compromised by the ugly and unfriendly BT building” took fifth place ahead of them all.

How we name our streets and public buildings is a reflection of the values of history and our values today. It subconsciously and subtly affects our self-worth. City landscapes are often dominated by men, royalty and war, which gives men an inflated sense of their own importance, and undermines the self-esteem of women and girls. We need to see our public spaces named after women for the same reason we need to see women on our banknotes.

Residential roads in the new Newcourt development are all named after men or war. In my fairly recent suburb, the roads are all named after men. The link between the royal family and the military is strong; Prince George is likely one day to join the British forces and one day become their supreme commander.

It is time to redress the balance. The pen is mightier than the sword. We need to recognise arts, education and social justice, and we need to recognise women, not least those who have encouraged children to read, campaigned for public libraries, and paid their taxes to support them.

So Exeter City Council, please name the new space either after Rowling, or give it a neutral name. “Library Square” would do the trick.

Gene Kemp would fit the bill nicely too. Thank you to @organicARTS for prompting me to look her up.

Another update:
Yes, on second thoughts agree with @goal_media that “Library Square” isn’t inspiring enough.

Yet another update:
So magslhalliday suggests her top three of Rowling Square, Coade Square, Carpenter Square (all good stuff), and then maybe Babbage Square and Bodley Square.
My father, who gives tours of the Bodleian Library, suggested to me yesterday (tongue in cheek) that Thomas Bodley gave nothing to Devon but exploited it for the benefit of Oxford. His wealth came from marrying the widow of a Totnes merchant who had made his money from pilchards. Do we want to commemorate such a man?!


Letter to Hugo Swire MP

Dear Mr Swire

Ben Bradshaw has recently visited to the Exeter Foodbank, and describes his visit at http://www.benbradshaw.co.uk/my-visit-to-exeter-foodbank/.

He writes: “One couple had walked with their small children all the way from Clyst St George to collect their food parcel.”

It is a 5.5 mile walk each way from Clyst St George via Topsham to the Mint Methodist church in Exeter. Clyst St George is in your constituency. This family is  represented by you in Parliament, as am I.

Mr Bradshaw reports that “Since April’s changes to the Social Security system there has been a further trebling of the number of people using the service.”

A trebling! And these people are no scroungers; the Foodbank is the lifeline for many. This is a shocking indictment of your Government’s social security policies, which demonstrate a complete lack of empathy and compassion, and have hit the poorest hard. Oh, and poverty is not a crime either, however much the Government and the right-wing press demonise poor people.

How is it that in a country as wealthy as the UK, more than 500,000 people are reliant on food parcels? The report by Church Action on Poverty and Oxfam is available at http://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/publications/walking-the-breadline-the-scandal-of-food-poverty-in-21st-century-britain-292978

Please represent your constituents, and do something to address food poverty, injustice and inequality.

Yours sincerely
Clare Bryden