Sometimes when I have taken my bike on the train to London and stayed overnight, rather than pay for another ticket, I cycle home along the Lea Valley. I leave the river in Hertford which leaves me with another few miles to Hatfield and although there must be much shorter routes home it is nice to be away from traffic for most of the journey. I never thought of the river as being particularly polluted but apparently it is one of the country's worst. Leo Hickman follows the course of the Lea.
I went to school at Hatfield School and just outside the back gate there was a pond we all knew as Bunchleys. It seems to be some sort of swallow hole and nobody knew how deep it was; there was a crazy story that a bus had once driven into it and came out in China:-) Hatfield School closed down long ago but the site (known as New Barnfield) is now home to two schools and a library. I often take my neighbour's two dogs for walks up past the pond and over to a nearby trig point. It is quite peaceful up there (except when there are dirt bikes tearing around) and some people fish in the pond. Anyway, there is a plan to build a new "energy from waste" incinerator and New Barnfield has been put forward as a reference site. There is lots of local opposition and it was a contentious issue in the recent local elections. I have just signed a petition to Save New Barnfield.
Yesterday I cycled to Stanborough Lakes in the morning to help set up the WHCF stall at the Kaleidoscope Festival. We used sections of scaffold tower to make an improvised bike parking facility and handed out hundreds of free local cycling maps.
Yesterday I cycled over to St Albans in the morning to join a STACC ride through the site of the new Heartwood Forest. It was advertised as a 12 mile ride with off-road sections. In fact it was about 15 miles and largely off-road, including some rather overgrown paths. It was fun though, and there was only one brief shower of rain just before we stopped at a pub for lunch.
I have started going to meetings of the Welwyn Hatfield Cycling Forum.
On May 20th a High Court judge ruled that the Government's policy strategy relating to proposed development at Hemel Hempstead, Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield was flawed and must be quashed and reconsidered. Plans for 10,000 Welwyn Hatfield homes thrown out.
I have just posted something on my WordPress blog about the upcoming European and County Council elections.
The Commonswood Nature Reserve is under threat from Government demands for 10,000 new homes to be built in Welwyn Hatfield. There was a report about it on BBC London News.
The UK's only independent Mac Developer Conference, NSConference, will take place in Hatfield on 16-17th April.
I was one of about 30 people who showed up for the Discussion Society meeting at the University on Monday. An official (I think it was the Dean?) was there to explain the University's position. Apparently there is a regulation which applies in the case of "controversial" external speakers. Ten days notice must be given, identifying the speaker so that the University can evaluate risks, put security in place etc. The Discussion Society was not aware of this requirement and had invited a speaker from Jews for Justice for Palestinians. Given the extremely low profile of the Discussion Society there were never likely to be such issues but when the University learned about this meeting they put the block on it, citing the ten day rule. The Dean claimed that there were Jews at the University who would be deeply offended by the presence of an external Jewish speaker who supports justice for Palestine. Sadly he may well be right, I can just imagine a Zionist professor finding out about the meeting and being so offended that they just had to complain to the authorities. The University could easily have allowed the meeting to go ahead but they obviously thought they could get away with blocking it on security grounds and invoked the rule. The Discussion Society responded by claiming censorship and the meeting, even without the invited speaker, was bigger and angrier than it would otherwise have been. There were security people on duty out in the corridor whilst the Dean was present, so clearly they didn't need ten days to make arrangements. It was perfect timing in a way though, just as the BBC was taking flak for its decision not to broadcast a DEC appeal for money to ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Censorship to appease the Zionists, sold to us as being in pursuit of "impartiality" or for our own safety.
Apparently the UH Student Union has banned the invited speaker who was going to be at the Discussion Society meeting on Monday January 26th. It is hoped that a large number of people will turn up for the meeting at 18:15 in room C408 on the College Lane Campus to demonstrate their objection to this blatant censorship, perhaps inspired by sit-ins at 16 UK Universities in solidarity with the people of Gaza.
A week ago I cycled over to Welwyn Garden City in the evening for a meeting of the Welwyn Hatfield Cycling Forum at Campus West. The main subjects of discussion were development of the cycling infrastructure and an event called Tour de Havilland which is being planned for Sunday June 14th.
After another long absence I managed to get over to the College Lane campus for a meeting of the UHSU Discussion Society, and very interesting it was too. There was a speaker from the Iranian Workers Solidarity Network who gave us a potted history of Iran since the time the Shah was thrown out. From what I can remember he said that about ten million Iranians (a quarter of the population) took part in the revolution. A key factor was the action of oil industry workers shutting off supplies but there was also involvement from other worker organisations, student groups etc. Once the Shah was out there was effectively a second revolution in which the Shia religious hierarchy took control and repressed all other groups. At first their hold on power was a bit shaky but the US backed Iraqi attack on Iran gave them the opportunity to crush their opponents and consolidate their position.
Until relatively recently the regime has been pretty much in control, but thing are changing. For one thing, despite the recent period of record oil prices, the country is suffering economically, with high inflation and unemployment - much higher than official figures claim. Now approximately 70% of industry is state owned, and the state has not been paying its workers. Many workers have not been paid for six months, some have not been paid for a year. All over Iran workers have reached a limit and have started organising to claim these unpaid wages. The regime responds by sending in police and this is radicalising the workers who are now making more radical demands.
Secondly, there was a time when the regime could rely on what were effectively vigilantes to suppress opposition. That is changing and the regime has now had to recruit and train professional enforcers (riot police etc) to do their dirty work for money rather than out of some sort of religious duty or obligation. That has changed the dynamics.
Of course we talked about the Uranium enrichment situation too. The speaker's view on that is that behind the scenes Iran and the US are actually on relatively good terms now, with cooperation happening on Iraq, Afghanistan etc. The whole nuclear thing is just bluster and serves the politicians on both sides. In the US the portrayal of Iran as a hostile entity seeking nuclear weapons distracts the population from the real issues. Likewise, in Iran, the portrayal of the US as an imperial power threatening to bomb them distracts from the real issues.
Finally, the speaker's personal view is that that the regime in Iran is now as weak as it has ever been and that within the next few years there could well be what is effectively another revolution that could sweep them from power.
I have gone on a bit longer than I intended and although I have obviously missed a lot that will have to do as a summary.
The Woodland trust is planning to plant 600,000 native trees on an 800 acre site near St Albans.
Welwyn Hatfield Green Party now has a website.
I just signed a petition calling on the Government to consider the implications on the vulnerable people in Welwyn Hatfield of closing local Post Offices. Check out the Save Welwyn Hatfield Post Offices Campaign.
Here is the response from the Prime Minister's Office to the petition I signed calling on the Prime Minister to prevent the destruction of rural Hertfordshire.
The Save Our Hospital campaign is still going strong. There will be a public meeting on Tuesday 18th September at the Ludwick Family Club in WGC at 8pm, and then a march and rally on Saturday 22nd September, assembling at the QEII Hospital at Noon.
Gordon Brown's official spokesman has said no green belt will be lost under plans for thousands of new homes. Good news for Hertfordshire? I hope so.
My attention has been drawn to two recent Guardian articles about the impending destruction of the greenbelt in Hertfordshire. On March 12th, John Vidal wrote "From rundown land to an £11bn part of an oil firm's dash for housing" and 10,000 acres of greenbelt under threat.
I have just signed this petition created by Sandy Walkington of Hands of Herts:
We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to prevent the destruction of rural Hertfordshire through opening up existing and precious Green Belt to unsustainable and inappropriate housing development which will overwhelm the local transport, school, health and water supply infrastructure and lead to the creation of "the London Borough of Hertfordshire"
Grant Shapps has posted another video on YouTube, this time about his campaign to oppose the destruction of our green belt by vast new unsustainable housing developments. There is not long left to submit your objections, so go to the NoWayTo10K website and get cracking!
Tonight I finally made it to a UHSU Discussion Society meeting again. They are meeting every week now on Tuesday evenings and alternating films and speakers. This evening they showed a film about Fair Trade banana production in St Vincent called "Fields of Gold?". They are hoping to get a speaker next week to talk about Fair Trade in general but are still looking for someone to do it.
About a week ago I was in Hatfield Town Centre and I decided to go and have a look at Number 1 Hatfield which is a Community Resource Centre that I had never been to before, despite the fact that it has been there for quite some time. They have an Internet Cafe and as soon as I mentioned that I work in IT they asked if I could have a look at their machines. I told them I know almost nothing about MS Windows, and when they mentioned they had a problem with the cost of licenses I asked if they had considered running Linux. The woman who I was talking to said she had never heard of it. I am thinking about getting involved somehow and perhaps installing Linux on at least one of their machines for them. Unfortunately they will lose their building when the town centre is redeveloped and if they don't manage to get somewhere else they will have to close.
Grant Shapps has been busy, kicking up a fuss about the cancellation of the promised new "Super Hospital" in Hatfield and threats to acute services at the existing QEII hospital - see Save Our Hospital.
Apparently the UHSU Discussion Society had a good start to the year with a well attended meeting about the NUS Admission: Impossible campaign. Then last night they showed Spike Lee's "Malcolm X" to coincide with the NUS "Black History Month". I was too busy and disorganised to go, but I would liked to have seen it. I will make an effort to get along to the next meeting.
Welwyn Hatfield MP Grant Shapps has set up a website to campaign against Government plans to force Welwyn Hatfield to find room for 10,000 new homes by sacrificing yet more of our supposedly protected green belt. The campaign is being run in partnership with the Welwyn Hatfield Times and has cross-party support. Check out the nowayto10k website and sign the petition if you agree that we should not have to accept such a significant imposition by unelected and unaccountable Government inspectors.
Welwyn Hatfield Environmental Network have organised a debate on nuclear power. It will take place at the Friends Meeting House in WGC on 2006-04-12 at 19:30, with Sir Bernard Ingham speaking in favour and Green Party energy spokesman Dr Dave Toke against.
Around the beginning of March, Welwyn Hatfield MP Grant Shapps set up a forum to "discuss anything and everything about life in Welwyn Hatfield". I have just had a look at it and there are 1,293 posts in 100 topics by 282 members .... 283 now including me:-)
Yesterday the UHSU Discussion Society had a guest speaker called Jo Wittams (who volunteers at CAAT) to lead a discussion about the relationship between universities and the arms trade. There was pretty good turn out this time and a good debate. Thanks to Jo and everyone else who was there for making the effort.
Sir Frederic Osborn School in WGC has just implemented a new networked computer system consisting of 300 recycled PCs running as Linux based thin clients hooked up to Sun servers. As well as saving about £90,00 per year there is also an environmental benefit - the thin clients are diskless and consume far less energy than standard Windows PCs would. The new system was switched on by Welwyn Hatfield MP Grant Shapps on the first day of winter term.
I am subscribed to an RSS feed which keeps me up to date with what my MP Grant Shapps is doing and saying in the house of commons. For example, yesterday at 11:30 he commented on the case of Jack Saywood, a 14 year old in Welwyn Hatfield whose details were on the national DNA database despite having never committed a crime. Apparently there are 24,000 children in the same position, and Grant pressed for their details to be removed from the database.
I went along to the UHSU Discussion Society meeting last night (before going on to the HertsLUG meeting in Stevenage) where the discussion topic was "What should your vote mean? Proportional representation or first past the post". There were only six people present but then it is exam time. Anyway, Matthew Brown gave a short presentation then off we went and I talked too much as usual:-) I went on a bit about how even if you are just electing one person from a list, there are much better ways to do it. Instead of putting a cross next to a single choice the voter should be able to rank the candidates. Then a Condorcet method could be used, which would at least guarantee that the ideal democratic winner (if one exists) would win, and reduce the compunction to vote tactically as opposed to sincerely.
Last night I woke up heard a strange rumbling sound. I thought it was probably an earth tremor or an explosion and went back to sleep. Apparently it was an explosion at a fuel depot about 10 miles away in Hemel Hempstead.
I cycled over to the Cole Green waste site this morning for the launch of the Welwyn Hatfield Green Party. There was a photographer from the local paper who posed us for a picture holding empty plastic bottles. Some of the workers asked what we were doing and when we told them they explained that they can't have a plastic bailing machine there because it would get nicked by people from the nearby traveller sites.
Fore information about what recycling facilities there are at the various waste sites check Waste Aware.
Tonight I went along to a meeting of the Welwyn Hatfield Environmental Network (WHEN) at Douglas Tilbe House in WGC. The best bit was a talk by Lydia Somerville about Thrift Cottage, an eco-house she has been building. There was talk of setting up a WHEN website, and someone suggested that UH might host it (they already host a Friends of Stream Woods page).
The Hertfordshire International Film Festival will take place on the weekend of 2005-10-22 at Campus West in WGC.
The UH Discussion Society met again this evening and I went along to talk about "Cannabis - herbal remedy or evil drug?". Not bad, but not enough tokers present:-) The next event will be on 2005-10-17 with the subject "What's your degree worth?". On 2005-11-01 they are having a social event which will involve heading over to the Alban Arena for a comedy night with Mark Thomas and Robert Newman.
I only recently realised that Jill Weston, a local Councillor, left the Labour Party and joined the Greens. Here is a press release from the Eastern Green Party.
Last Monday I went to a meeting of the recently formed UH Discussion Society where we debated the moves to allow terrorist suspects to be placed under house arrest without any evidence being presented. The next meeting on 2005-03-07 will be to discuss something like "Registering to vote - why should I bother?".
Speak Up Hertfordshire has been set up to make it easier for you to respond to the public consultation on the East of England Plan - which started last year and runs until 2005-03-16. Not much time left, so if you are concerned about the future of Hertfordshire take a look now and have your say.
I was going through some old email and found a message someone had sent me about a mysterious cave below Melbourn Street in Royston.
The University of Hertfordshire is adopting a fair trade policy and has applied for Fair Trade University status.
Last night I decided to take my mountain bike for a ride through the woods down towards Balloon Corner. Two people were killed today when a microlight and a helicopter collided in mid air in the same area. My parents told me this evening, that on a recent trip to London their car navigation system crashed twice and had to be rebooted - once while passing the South Mymms service station on the way, and then in the same place on the way back. These things all just connected in my mind with the words "Bermuda Triangle".
I cycled over to St. Albans yesterday and joined the Unite Against Fascism demonstration against the threatened National Front march which in the end failed to materialise. There were more than 100 of us who walked up Holywell hill to rally at the clock tower for a few short speeches. There had been rumours that the NF were expecting a turnout of 150, but Stephen Bates reported in this Guardian article that only four showed up, and they were obviously keeping a low profile.
Last year I went along to the first Kaleidoscope festival at Stanborough Park in Welwyn Garden City. It was enough of a success that it is back again this year, hopefully bigger and better. Organised by the Welwyn Hatfield Ethnic Minority Group (a project of the Welwyn Hatfield CVS) it will feature a variety of music, dance, drama, arts, information and food, all with a multicultural theme.
Not long now till the excellent Rhythms of the World festival in Hitchin, which is billed as the largest free festival of world music in the UK. It takes place on the weekend of the July 10th, and on the Sunday I will be playing percussion with a band called "Mundo Pequeno".
The BNP contested both Cheshunt North and Cheshunt Central at the recent local elections, but despite prolific leafleting and door-to-door canvassing their share of the vote was reduced and they failed to win either seat. Part of the credit must go to Broxbourne Against Racism (BAR), a local group that made a fantastic effort to counter the BNP propaganda.
On Friday at 5PM Jeffrey John will be installed as Dean of St. Albans. The National Front are planning a protest and St. Albans Unite Against Fascism have called a counter demonstration, assembling at 4PM in the Abbey Theatre car park. To be fair, although I am pretty sure that homophobia is endemic within the National Front, some of my gay friends have expressed reservations about supporting the right of a gay man to take up a prominent position in an inherently homophobic institution like the Church of England. But then again, Jeffery has every right to hold his Christian beliefs and it up to the church to sort out the mess (there is no "logical" solution since it is not logical to believe what it says in the Bible). I just don't like the idea of fascists marching on the streets of St. Albans and will most likely turn out to protest.
There was a "debate" between Sun and Microsoft at the University of Hertfordshire which I did not have time to attend. I guess it had been arranged before the two companies signed their recent agreement. Someone called John went and said it was more like a love-fest. He wrote a report which has been posted at Groklaw.
On 2004-06-10 I will be voting in the European Parliament Elections, with Hertfordshire being part of the Eastern Region. See my Euro 2004 page for further information.
I will be attending the Hertfordshire Linux User Group meeting tonight.
Yesterday I received an email about the forthcoming council elections in Broxbourne and realised that I had no appropriate place on my website to mention it. I decided that I needed a whole new section for local events and issues and this is it.
So what exactly was the email about? Well, apparently Broxbourne has one British National Party councillor already (Ramon Johns), and concerned citizens have formed Broxbourne Against Racism to counter the threat. For impartial information about the BNP (at least about as impartial as you can hope to find) check out this wikipedia article.
www.zenatode.org.uk Ian Gregory 2010