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Posts Tagged ‘Sandwell’

A couple of weeks ago Dreamer and I and Freddie the Dog took a walk around the local park. It’s bigger than you might think. It even has a couple of lakes. It was looking fabulous, as you can see. So if you were holding off applying for our Ministry Trainee position because you thought you might miss nature, think again. We’re still looking for someone!

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It’s been a bit of a busy start to the year so I’ve been rather off blogging. But yesterday I went for a walk with Dreamer and Freddie the Pooch. We headed to our local park and the frost was so beautiful that I took a couple of pics. Glorious, eh? Only slightly marred by the three young couples snogging under separate trees. At 3pm on a Tuesday. Not sure what that was about.

Tower blocks looking mysterious in the frost

Tower blocks looking mysterious in the frost

Freddie pooching about

Freddie pooching about

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This weekend the Engineer’s godmother, Song, told me that our tow-un had been mentioned on Radio 4’s Food Programme. But not in a good way. It was in a programme looking at the effects and prevalence of trans-fats – factory produced fats which are used in cheap foods and which are linked to obesity and other health problems. Some national companies like McDonalds and KFC have signed up to a pledge to remove all trans-fats from their food by the end of this year. But small independent companies, like most of the ones in our high street, have generally not signed up.

The Food Programme’s presenter, Sheila Dillon, visited our high street (at around 15 minutes into the programme) with Sandwell’s Director of Public Health, Dr John Middleton. Dr Middleton says that Sandwell has been described as ‘fat central’ and that the quality of food that can be bought in the area is a factor in the obesity issues here.

And last week our local paper posted an article about how the high street here is one of the worst in the UK. The rental prices for retail property in the town have plummeted because the profits that can be made are so low that retailers are reluctant to operate here. So nearly all the shops sell cheap or heavily discounted products, which brings us trans-fats in the cut-price food and then the associated health problems.

So here, unlike Bristol, here we’re waiting for Tesco to save and regenerate our high street, as their new superstore is built. Saving and regenerating the town’s people, however, is something only God can do.

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I drove into tow-un yesterday morning to get some messages (as the Scots like to say). As I was driving I noticed a few new shops that have opened recently that should give you the flavour of the boom industries in our neighbourhood. They were:

  • A Polish delicatessan. I think we must now have half a dozen of these shops in town now, along with a good few Polish hairdressers and beauticians. A sign of the changing face of immigration in the area – many Eastern Europeans have joined the mix that brings a buzz alongside many challenges and gives us 22 languages spoken in the homes of the children in our church primary school.
  • A new ‘wine’ shop. There are very many off licences in our high street, and all the grocers sell cheap booze along with the chapatti flour. I saw a chap who must have patronised one of the local off licences in the carpark of Lidl at 11am, rolling as he walked and clutching a bottle of Frosty Jack cider.
  • A Brook ‘Young People’s Health Shop’. A sad indicator of the ubiquity of the sexual promiscuity and irresponsibility that is the norm here and that contributes to the brokenness of so many lives around us.

Talking of my trip to Lidl, as I went into the shop a chap charmingly spat generously on the floor by his car, which his wife and child were sitting in. He looked shocked when I mentioned to him that his behaviour was both disgusting and a health hazard.

I didn’t wait to discuss it with him any further though, chicken that I am, and dashed into the shop to stock up on cheap sliced ham and fresh peaches.

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We had our Quinquennial last Wednesday. Oh the joys of being Anglican and living in the world of archdeacons, Septuagesima and antidisestablishmentarianism.  But thankfully a Quinquennial is not as complex as any of these: is just a five year anniversary. And it’s the shorthand for a five yearly inspection of church property. In this case it was of the Vicarage. It’s the diocese’s way of ensuring that essential maintenance is done on crumbling Vicarages at regular intervals.

So we had a visit from our excellent diocesan architect and he went round making a note of the broken door handles and peeling external paint. He gave us the good news of the four year double glazing programme to which have now been added. Meaning that we should get double glazing in about a year’s time. So we’ve another year of pretty iced window photos to come. And he admired our wood burning stoves and wrote a long list of works. These then have to be quoted against, go up to a diocesan committee and then get commissioned. My vicar’s wife friend, Snap, who lives in a different diocese, says her work, already identified, won’t be started on until September. The joys of ministry. But at least it’s in the pipeline.

Us soon! I hope.

As the architect left, a surveyor for the insulation company commissioned by WarmZone arrived. He went round our cold bits and has promised loft and cavity wall insulation before Easter. So although we’ll not have the double glazing, we should be properly insulated next winter. After our visit from Seema the other week, we were under the impression that we’d get this work done for a bargain £49.

But it seems things are turning out even better for us – npower are now funding the project completely for all payers of council tax in Sandwell. So if you live near me you can get this help for nothing. Gratis. Wonderful.

But not if you’re my friend Tink. She applied for help from WarmZone, but her private landlord has declined to have anything done. She tells me that although they offered the loft and cavity wall insulation for free, because they declined to provide a free boiler as well, her landlord decided not to have any work at all.

In the meantime, Tink continues to pay higher bills for energy than all her neighbours, living in council owned property in the same terrace. And there’s nothing she can do about it apart from continue to bid for a council house, just as she’s been doing for the last two years. Sometimes I have reason to be thankful for the Church of England.

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The Vicar's study has been 10°C today. Brrr.

Before Christmas, we had a nasty shock from our power supplier, e.on. They wanted to raise our monthly direct debit for gas and electricity by nearly 85%. Although our usage has gone up a bit in the cold weather, we were still in credit with them.

The Vicar had some long discussions with their customer services department, both on the phone and by email, but to no avail. They’ve estimated our usage for the next few months based on the records from when we didn’t live here and the decorators were in, heating the house 24/7.

Although we think they’ve made a bad call, we have to go along with it. It will cause a bit of cash flow trouble in the next couple of months, but once we’ve proved that they’ve made a mistake, it should even out.

The upside of all this irritation is that we went online and switched our tariff, saving another 8% on the charges. The other upside is that the Vicar contacted the diocese about sorting out some loft insulation and they put us onto the excellent Warm Zone team.

Warm Zone is an EU funded initiative operating in selected areas, including ours. They provide advice and can also help out with insulation and other kit if you fall into the fuel poverty bracket, which we do now, since a Vicar’s salary is not what you’d usually have if you lived in a house this size.

So this morning we had a visit from Seema, from Sandwell Warm Zone. She came armed with goodies, including a fancy plug to turn off printers when the computer is switched off, a timer switch, an eco kettle and some low energy light bulbs. Most importantly, she brought an energy sensor, which she’s lent us for the next few weeks. It monitors electricity usage so you can see the power used by each appliance in the house as it’s switched on. I’m a little scared about what it’s going to reveal, but it will be useful.

And we’re on the list for loft insulation and possibly cavity wall insulation in the modern extension part of the house. There’s a bit of a waiting list, so we’re not sure when that will happen. As we’re not in the lowest income bracket, we’re going to have to pay for their services. But only £49. We’re hoping that will make a big difference, especially to Happy, the Vicar’s Apprentice, whose room is in the uninsulated attic. It’s so cold up there at the moment that we’ve taken pity on him and brought him down to sleep in the spare bedroom a floor below.

So if you’re in Aberdeen, Birmingham, Devon, Gateshead, Hull, Kirklees, London, Newcastle, North Staffordshire, North Tyneside, Northumberland, Nottingham, Sandwell, South Tyneside or Swindon, give them a call. It won’t do any harm and you could find yourself cheaply warmer.

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Our family visited West Bromwich’s very expensive new art gallery this weekend. We had been at the baptism of Polly’s baby at the local catholic church and had time before the chicken roasting in the Vicarage oven was going to be cooked, so we dropped into the big black fish tank with Babapapa windows.

Is it a huge waste of money or an investment for the future?

A huge waste of money or an investment for the future?

We have been in before (for expensive coffee and a view of the glitzy loos), but the art gallery part has only just opened, so this was our first opportunity to gauge whether the £67 million that was spent has been really worthwhile.

Of course, the word on the street is that it is a complete waste of money for a town which has no cinema, no bowling alley and no swimming pool. But let’s give it a chance, eh? We loved the art gallery in Wolverhampton, where you could look at beautiful pictures, dress up as a Georgian, feel textured sculptures and eat wonderful salad selections. I would sometimes just pop in with the kids for half an hour to visit their favourite exhibits.

So how was the Public going to shape up? Would the kids enjoy it? And would the grown ups?

First off, I have to say that the curators are a bit overkeen. I like to look at the art and spend time in my own head in a gallery. And the kids like to do their own thing. So having three or four curators launch themselves at us telling us what to do was a little off-putting.  Maybe they were a bit bored – there seems to be rather too many of them.  It’s great to have them there to ask things of, but when they just started suggesting what we do, I felt rather patronised. Like we were ignorant and wouldn’t know what to do and might not be able to read any instructions or labels. It made me a bit grumpy, to tell the truth. If I want people to leap on me and ask me if I need any help, I’ll go to a posh frock shop.

Secondly, there’s not a lot there. And I don’t want to sound ignorant or anything, but I don’t think that much of it was what I’d call art. There were four sculptures and some good photos of the Black Country from the 1960s. But the rest consisted of the following:

  • What the kids called ‘dance mats’ and were basically slightly weird and not very good computer games.
  • Some fun video projectors which enabled you to see yourself sitting on a bench with people sitting on a different bench.
  • Some touch screen digital photo frames with photos of art projects that have happened at the Public over the summer.
  • A couple of short movies (one on the Public and one on Malcolm X).
  • A chance to make an animation of yourself.
  • Some gadgets which you could swirl your hands in to make coloured bubbles appear on some round projector screens.

I’d much rather look at a couple of good paintings and let the kids dress up in funky ’60s clothing, like in Wolverhampton’s pop art gallery.

Now from their latest magazine, I can see that there is more to the place than the exhibition, and we enjoyed hearing wafts of live jazz as we ambled down the long wooden ramp that most of the gallery seems to comprise of. And I liked the look of their Saturday art club and might even bring the kids along one week.

But as for the exhibition, the children enjoyed jumping about on the ‘dance mats’ and swirling their hands to make bubbles. And they liked the free self portrait photo. But the Vicar and I were pretty bored. And I can’t see the gallery exciting my kids about art, especially not compared to what they could experience in Wolverhampton. I wonder what they could have done with a cheap refurbished factory and money spent on real art instead? Or money spent on artists in every primary school in Sandwell.

So in my view, the Public seems rather like the Millenium Dome. A visionary building with less than visionary contents. The Public has so far failed to impress this section of West Brom’s public.

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