Monday, 23 November 2009

Storms over Cumbria 2

More photographs and reports, this time from cousin Julian. He reports on his own village, and several others in the area:

“We are all ok here up the hill in Greenodd, however Penny Bridge, Spark Bridge all closed for now awaiting inspection. Bluemills Bridge parapets gone and as you can see from the photos, Whitewater hotel awash and most if not all of the timeshare apartments flooded. New houses on the ironworks site didn't seem too bad, the footbridge might still be in place but it's hard to tell. Swan Hotel / Lakeside Hotel (Newby Bridge) also badly flooded

Julian also sent me more photographs - below.

Almost all of the national media coverage has focused solely on the damage and disruption in Cockermouth and Workington, with little recognition of the effects elsewhere in the county. So it was good to see the Guardian run a live news blog today, with breaking news items and short pieces on matters across the wider Lake District. One of those pieces (see 11.56) featured Martin Wainwright, the paper’s northern editor, talking with my cousin Richard Bevins

Martin Wainwright has been speaking to Richard Bevins, who used to manage the river Levens between the southern tip of Windermere and Greenodd on Moercambe Bay. He said the flooding was 2ft higher the than the previous high-water mark.

He said: "The sheer amount of water would have overwhelmed any imaginable defences. The 19th century plaque on Bluemills Bridge, marking the previous high-water mark, was at least two feet below the surface of this flood. The water's gone down now and people are going back into their properties where there's a lot of damage."

The Swan hotel, at the foot of Windermere, was flooded and worse damage was down to the Waterside, a little further down the Leven, which has always used its normally idyllic position by the Leven to attract visitors. The restaurant there was deep underwater at the height of the flood and timeshare cottages at the back of the hotel were inundated. Bevins said: "My family have managed this river for five generations. I've seen something that my great great grandfather never saw."

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Tony Bevins Award

Journalist Paul Lewis has won this year's Bevins Prize for outstanding investigative journalism – the Rat Up a Drain Pipe award – for his stories about the death of Ian Tomlinson during the G20 protests in London last April.

In their citation, the judges said: "Paul uncovered the truth by persistently questioning and challenging the police account, by following up on the family, and assiduously garnering eyewitness evidence, until finally he obtained incontrovertible video evidence from a bystander who filmed the incident. In achieving this Paul used every method now available to a modern journalist, online and in print, to keep pushing and nudging at the story until he established what had really happened.

"His work led to internal and independent police inquiry, extensive and international public comment, and has changed the way police behave in potential riot situations, and how they receive and investigate complaints. All in all, his story was a triumph for the assertion of civil liberty, as well as a revelation about policing conduct."

Much of his coverage of G20 and the subsequent inquiries is here.

The Rat Up a Drainpipe trophy is awarded in memory of Tony Bevins, the first political editor of The Independent, who died in 2001. Bevins was famous for causing mischief in both the political and journalism world, and this is where the award takes its name.

Tony Bevins, who has died of pneumonia aged 58, was the most free-spirited political journalist of his time. During 33 years in the lobbies of Westminster he dug out more scoops and exposed more hidden truth about government than most of his peers could imagine possible. He was a one-off, unbound by false respect or comforting convention - qualities that ensured he was adored by close friends and colleagues, and maddened those he antagonised.

Read the full Obituary here: March 26th 2001:

Tony started his career on the Liverpool Post, moving in time to become political correspondent of The Times. In 1986 he became the first political editor, of the Independent.

Storms over Cumbria

The storms over Cumbria have brought destruction and deaths, well reported on all media, with images of the damage to many homes and businesses. However, the damage is wider than just the area of Cockermouth and west Cumbria.

Further round the coast, into the South Lakes, there is also heavy flooding. My cousin Suzannah Bevins has sent me news and dramatic photos (below) from the village of Backbarrow, where the river Leven flows from Windermere and onwards to the sea.

In Backbarrow the old blue mill, now converted into the Whitewater hotel, stands right beside the river. The first two photos show the scene as I saw it on a typical day last September.

Suzannah writes: “The Hotel and the lower part of Backbarrow have been totally flooded out. As you can see the bridge now has a raging torrent running over it, the first time ever that the river has been this high”

Later, it was washed away completely. The Bailey Bridge footbridge, just a few metres downstream, was also completely submerged.

Severe flood warnings are still in place for parts of the county, and for many other parts of the UK.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

I’ve always been a ‘glass half full’ sort of chap, looking optimistically at life and all its challenges.

This ad appeared on the Sports pages this morning and I suppose the sponsor’s message is about supping an enjoyable pint during yesterday’s game.


Is it a ‘glass completely empty’ comment on the England team’s performance yesterday.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

England Rugby

Six years ago this week I sat with Natalie Slessor in the Olympic Stadium in Sydney and saw England win the Rugby World Cup. It was an amazing night, a memorable trip, and a proud achievement, which was rightly celebrated with that parade through the streets of London. Since then it’s been downhill for England rugby.

I watched today’s game against Argentina at home on Sky TV. Frankly, I’m not willing to pay around £100 for a ticket to sit at Twickenham and see play this poor – and it’s been consistently poor since that famous night in Sydney. Dull, unadventurous, error-ridden, and without real ambition. From being the best in the world, England has fallen to eighth place in the world table.

At half-time today the score was 9-9 and it looked as England would suffer another defeat. A try nine minutes from the final whistle let England win 16-9 but that can’t hide a shocking display.

The current England head coach is Martin Johnson, who was a brilliant player captain and led England through the long years and the campaign which culminated in that win in November 2003. Twelve months ago, after a long run of losses, the same Johnson was appointed Head Coach – the fourth since 2003. He had no experience of coaching, which made many of us wonder at the time just what his employer – the RFU – thought the job was about. Additionally, they made him retain the large team of sub-coaches who were already in place – possibly thinking that their experience would make up for his lack. They were wrong: It must now be time for change.

The excuse for today’s poor showing will be that England is depleted by a huge number of injuries in the elite squad. That is true, but in fact England is the wealthiest, best resourced, rugby union in the world, and can draw on a larger pool of players than any other country – bar none.

England’s opponents today, Argentina, have been improving markedly year on year. Life is tough for them. They don’t have regular international games in either the northern or southern hemisphere. Most of their best players play their club rugby in France and England, and that experience is helping them develop a group of tap class players, but it is still a very small group. As a national team, they have a fraction of the budget of England, many fewer professional players to choose from, and a tiny pool from which to develop the next generation of stars. In today’s squad at Twickenham they had 6 amateur players, they had only four days together to train and work on tactics. And yet until the last ten minutes, they held England to a draw.

Next week England play New Zealand. I wouldn’t advise buying a ticket – unless you’re an All Blacks supporter.

Natalie meets England hooker Steve Thompson the morning after winning the World Cup.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Remembrance Sunday

The National Ceremony of Remembrance will take place this Sunday, centred on the Cenotaph service and parade in Whitehall on Sunday. At 11.00 the two minute silence will be observed following which over 7000 veterans will to take part in the March Past.

The parade will be broadcast on BBC One and on Radio 4 from 10.30.

The Royal British Legion is a charity that provides financial, social and emotional support to millions who have served and are currently serving in the Armed Forces, and their dependants. The Legion was founded in 1921 as a voice for the ex-Service community and with over 380,000 members it continues to safeguard their welfare, interests and memory. The Legion is best-known for the Poppy Appeal, which in 2009 is emphasising the need to help the Afghan generation of the Armed Forces and their families – today and for the rest of their lives.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission pays tribute to the men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the two world wars.

Over one million casualties are now commemorated at military and civil sites in some 150 countries. The Commission has constructed war cemeteries and plots, erecting headstones over graves and, in instances where the remains are missing, inscribing the names of the dead on permanent memorials. The largest of the memorials to the missing, is the Thiepval Memorial in France, carrying the names of over 72,000 casualties from the Battle of the Somme.

The Commission maintains an excellent electronic version of the records, which can be accessed by anyone interested in tracing family via the "Debt of Honour Register".

This comprehensive site is the Commission's database listing the 1.7 million who died and the 23,000 cemeteries, memorials and other locations worldwide where they are commemorated. The register can also be searched for details of the 67,000 Commonwealth civilians who died as a result of enemy action.

The bodies of eight British servicemen killed in Afghanistan were repatriated on 14th July 2009

Young people study the graves at the Thiepval Memorial, northern France

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Old Goats

I saw this poster on the main road this afternoon. I assume it’s connected with the launch of the film “The Men Who Stare At Goats” based on Jon Ronson’s book. I haven’t seen any press reviews, so it must be imminent. You see many strange things around here so the line about a man staring at a goat may be quite plausible to some.

I wonder how long it will remain on the lamp-post: this being Hackney, it could a couple of years, or will the posters remove it?

Still, as advertising it worked: I’ve now told you about the film.

Alan Johnson MP

Monday 2nd

Up early and off to the RSA to hear the Home Secretary’s speech “Security in the 21st Century: Global, National, Local”

It is likely to be an interesting morning for Alan Johnson following his sacking last week of the Chair of his Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs. The press and tv are camped in John Adam Street and inside a packed house is waiting to hear him.

The word is that Johnson has been doing the rounds of broadcast studios since early morning, defending his move on the drugs chief. Another drugs advisor has resigned over the weekend and more are rumored to be considering their positions.

Mathew Taylor, Chief Exec of the RSA who is hosting the event, appears at 9.35 to apologize for the delayed start: "I’m told he is just one minute away".

At 9.45 Matthew returns: “He is now five minutes away; he’s been taking scientific advice on his journey timing”

When he finally arrives Johnson makes a good speech, his first major speech on immigration. He seems clearly at ease with his brief, and surprises us with his admission of government failings. He seems to get a good reception in the papers this morning.

Alan Johnson coupled his admission yesterday of having done too little to tackle Britain’s immigration crisis with criticism for some of his predecessors for having ignored the problem. He conceded that Labour had not handled immigration problems well. The Times.

Some parts of the country have been "disproportionately affected" by the influx of migrants …. his predecessors had ignored for "far too long" problems in the system that led to huge backlogs of asylum seekers and foreign national prisoners …… Labour, as well as previous Governments, had been "maladroit" in their handling of the immigration issue. The Telegraph

Most interesting, given the extensive new powers sought by Blair and Brown, and the fiasco of the 90-day detention row: The home secretary also conceded that some of the counter-terrorism proposals made after the 7 July 2005 bombings were "too draconian" and "not the right way to go". The Guardian

Alan Johnson is the 4th Home Secretary in 5 years.

The late arrival meant that there was little time for a detailed response from Professor Michael Clarke and only three questions from the audience. I was hoping to ask Alan Johnson, the former General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union, what advice he would give to his former union members, and his government colleagues, on their respective handling of the current long-running strike at Royal Mail. Given his openness and frankness it would have been useful to hear his views.

Later, I wondered about the future: might Alan Johnson be the next leader of the Labour party? How will he perform when in opposition? Is he a future PM?