Underinvestment in Railways

Level Crossing

I’m a big fan of railway transport – it’s greener, it’s generally safer than by car, and enables those that can’t drive to get around.  However I wish more of our politicians were regular users, as I think there are a lot of changes needed.

The cost of HS2 is currently estimated at £56 billion.  I think this money would be much better spent improving the existing network.

Take my local station, Nantwich:

Nantwich station

for instance.   The old station buildings are now an Indian restaurant, and there’s no proper station car park. The only shelter is very small.  So when there are 80 people waiting for a delayed train and it’s chucking it down, the majority will get wet.  The operator (Arriva Trains Wales) has ancient rolling stock (see here).  The newest of their fleet are 17 years old, and some of their trains are over 40 years old.  It’s a steep step onto some of their trains, which would be awkward for elderly or disabled passengers.

The screen announcing train times is a joke, and regularly gives inaccurate information (the savvy know to look at their mobile phones, to find out what’s really happening).  For instance there was a tragic fatal accident affecting a Nantwich to Crewe service, when a train hit someone near Shrewsbury just after 5:30am.  The service was due at Nantwich at 06:07.  At 06:18 the screen was still saying that the train was expected at 06:16, and only later decided that it had been cancelled!

I think Arriva Trains Wales is by no means the worst operator.  Why would they make significant investments when their franchise is scheduled to finish next year? At least they’re not using the Pacer trains made from modified buses!

A new feature in Rail News has some rather disturbing stories from the Rail Accident Investigation Branch.  I’ll pass over this story, about how a locomotive ran away and travelled 880 metres when the driver was unable to stop it!  There was another story about how a train travelling at 73 mph almost collided with a tractor and trailer at Castle Cary.  The tractor driver had been given permission to cross the track, and mistakes were made. But why, in the 21st century, do we have a situation where the signaller doesn’t know where exactly a train is in a 15.2 km long section?   If you look at the report here, the crossing looks like an accident waiting to happen.

The small boy in me is excited by the prospects of the fast travel potentially offered by HS2.  In reality, like first class travel, it will probably be too dear for me to use regularly.  I  think the £56,000,000,000 cost would be a lot better improving the existing network.

Veg Crisis

Empty fruit and veg shelves in a supermarket

Apparently we’re having a veg crisis!

My local supermarket had empty shelves and a sign explaining why it had happened:

Sign explaining the lack of fruit and vegetables is due to flooding in Spain

However when I went to my local market the next day, it was a different story!  Both of the excellent fruit and vegetable stalls had full displays:

Fruit and vegetables in Nantwich marketIt was also the same story at my lovely local greengrocer (which I’m very fortunate to still have):
P & J Salmon Greengrocers in NantwichThe only reason why there’s a gap in the display is that a customer had just chosen a cauliflower, but I know the display will be topped up soon.

How has this come about?  The problem with the supermarkets is that because they operate on a huge scale they cannot deal with small producers.  My local specialist shops frequently deal directly with the growers, or even grow it themselves.  This means they can be cheaper and sell better quality produce.

My local shops also tend to sell what’s in season.  It’s a delight to look at their colourful displays which change continually through the season.

Eating runner beans from Africa, and asparagus from Peru, in the middle of winter is both damaging to the environment and your bank balance!  It’s sad that, as a result of poor education, many people don’t even know what should be in season!

I’ve got a new site to help you here:

Nantwich Tales by Susan Church


If you’ve ever been lucky enough to attend a talk by Sue Church you’ll know already that this book will be a thoroughly good read!

It’s well researched and easy to read, I can’t put my copy down! There are tales of murder and madness, but also some very positive tales about people who’ve lived in this wonderful South Cheshire town.

So if you want to know more about Wesley Knowles (the armless signal man) or the Nixon sisters (who lived with their dead mother for several years) I thoroughly commend this book.  You can buy a copy in Nantwich bookshop or Nantwich Museum.

Bill Pearson \ Nantwich History

Bill Pearson’s Home Page

Obesity – a time bomb that’s already going off

There’s been a lot in the press about obesity and health recently, with an NHS body controversially proposing to restrict obese patients (and smokers) from non-emergency surgery.  It made me think why would so many people get themselves into such a state.

Bad diets

The NHS recommends added sugar should not make up more than 5% of the total energy we get from food and drink each day.  However the National Diet and Nutrition Survey tells us that we are having far too much. Children aged 11 to 18 years are getting 15% of their daily calories from added sugar!

We’re not eating enough fruit and vegetables – over half of us intend to eat five a day, but only 14% regularly eat the rcommended five a day (see here).

What are the consequences of this?  Diabetes is thought to cost the NHS about £10bn, once the cost of treatment, including amputation and hospitalisations for life-threatening hypoglycaemic attacks, is included.

Obesity is a major cause of heart disease.   Three-quarters of people are unaware being overweight increases the risk of developing 10 different types of cancer, Cancer Research UK has said.

This article in the Guardian tells us there are now one million morbidly obese people in Britain. Trends suggest that without effective intervention nine out of 10 adults, and six out of 10 children, will be overweight or obese by 2050.

Who’s fault is this?  It’s easy to say it’s the fault of individuals who are eating a bad diet and too many calories – but people who are eating healthily are becoming a minority.

Better Education

It must start with better education – there are many families now where the parents don’t know how to cook properly and so the children don’t know how to cook either.  Cookery lessons in most schools are, in my opinion, a joke.

If cookery was taught in an engaging way in our schools, it would be also be a great way of improving the skills of our children.

As a small child I gained numeracy skills whilst I learnt about weights and ratios, whilst baking with my mother. I had an introduction to biology, when dealing with poultry giblets (which sadly typically are no longer included – as people prefer to buy more expensive pâté).  I already knew about acids and alkalis when I did chemistry because I’d made cakes and used baking powder, or mixed bicarbonate of soda with lemon juice and vinegar.

I also learnt about home economics – food waste was minimal in our house, and dishes made with left overs were some of my favourites.

Today families rarely cook together, but the country watches cookery programmes like MasterChef whilst eating a microwave ready meal on their lap, or munching a bag of crisps.

Politicians and the Food Industry

The food industry must take a lot of the blame.  It’s highly profitable to sell fat, flour, salt and sugar (with artificial flavouring and colouring to help disguise what you are doing).

For too long the food industry has had too much influence on our politicians. That’s as clever as putting the fox in charge of the hen house.

As recently as 1979 45% of the British population smoked, but this has dropped to under 20% by 2013.  The politicians can learn from this.  The politicians need to implement bans on advertising for junk food and drinks, and have much better rules on food labelling.  Sponsorship of sporting events etc. should not be allowed by the pedlars of our bad diet.

Some taxes on unhealthy food and drink could also help.  This report tells us the cost to the NHS, and to society, of obesity-related illness is predicted to reach £50 billion by 2050.  With better education, and more controls on our food industry, I’m sure we could reduce this if we wanted to.

Traceability and local food

It always surprises me how many people regard shopping as a chore! This weekend I got most of what I need from our local market.

My first stop was for some bread. My supplier is Charles Ormrod, who (when he’s not selling bread) is a professional pianist. He’s got interesting views of all sorts of things, so I’d like to chat for longer – but I don’t like holding up his queue. The bread comes from London Road Bakery in Stoke, which is one of Britain’s last coal-fired bakeries. Their loaves are hand-moulded and baked each morning in their 130-year-old ovens. Their GI bread is good for you, and lasts well (if you don’t eat it first)!

The next stop is Stuart Hornby, my fishmonger.  There’s always a long queue for Stuart – because he popular, and also he spends ages preparing your fish (and removing bones if you want). He drives down from Fleetwood and knows exactly where his fish comes from. Although there is a queue you can usually have an interesting natter with other customers, and we always have a laugh with Stuart! I often buy off Stuart some of Ray Edmondson’s Morcambe Bay Potted Shrimps.  Here’s a picture of Ray’s shrimping boat:

Shrimping boats

Ray’s other customers include Adrian Edmondson (no relation), Hugh Fearlessly Eats It All, and Rick Stein.

At the cheese stand we had a chat about the Appleby family – who make the best Cheshire cheese you can buy. She’s very happy to let you have a taste – as she knows you’ll buy more! They also have some nice blue cheeses:

Shropshire blue cheese

I bought some Longley Farm Jersey cream – which tastes wonderful and keeps well.

Next door to them is D & K Welch Poultry.  You can get your old egg boxes refilled here – which cuts out waste. I bought some of Brian Bennion’s beef here. I know it will be tender – because Brian looks after his animals. I often buy chicken livers here (a lot of supermarkets either don’t sell them or only have frozen ones). They’re incredibly cheap here (and tasty). When I’m not using them in a risotto, I’ll make pâté. Yesterday I was feeling lazy – so I bought some of their own home-made chicken liver pâté (with Cointreau) to try.  The cost for quite a big container was just £1.50. I know it will taste good (because another customer told me).

We’re spoilt for choice with butchers in Nantwich (there’s one at the other side of the market, two excellent shops in the town and a superb farm shop just off the bypass). I try and give them all a bit of my trade – the stiff competition keeps them all trying hard.

carrots and cauliflowers

There’s three fruit and veg stalls in the market, and another great shop in the town.   At one a lot of stuff is home grown. Unlike the market traders of my childhood (who had good stuff on display but filled your bag with more dubious stuff hidden below) the quality is top notch. They’ll tell you which fruit is the sweetest and which has the best flavour.

I often keep meeting the same people at different stalls, because those in the know often shop in the same places.

Occasionally I do go to the supermarket. I can normally do my shopping their faster than I can get through the tills! My hear sinks when I hear someone bleating on the tannoy “will all till-trained staff please go to the checkouts” as I know the company accountant has decided they’d rather save money and have queues!

Supermarket shopping does keep you brain alert though. Is that item in the same buy three things you didn’t want three of and only get the cheapest item free as the other items?

You may have the “privilege” of a machine to serve you at the check out. Here, in the close to mugging experience, the machine may bark at you “have you got a loyalty card” so that it can learn how to extract money out of you more efficiently. When it’s finished not recognising items it will have to ask you how many bags you’ve used – as it’s not that bright!  I usually prefer to find a staffed till, where members of the staff (who’ve just been on a marketing course) may even compliment you on your purchases! There’s no normally jokes here, but I always mange to smile wryly when the youth serving you asks what sort of fruit or veg you’ve got. Presumably it doesn’t look like that in Mcdreadfuls!

I don’t feel shopping at local shops is a chore, it’s more like meeting up with friends!

Web: http://goodfoodshops.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/nantwich-market.html

Blood testing for people with diabetes

3 readings

I was rather concerned to hear today that there are more than 3.3 million people with diabetes in the UK – an increase of nearly 60% in the last decade. There’s a clear link between Type 2 diabetes and bad diet, and it worries me that many youngsters have unhealthy diets which could lead to them getting this disease.

I’ve had Type 1 diabetes for 35 years. The perfect balanced diet for me – plenty of fruit and vegetables, but low in fat and avoiding highly refined carbohydrates (and especially sugar), is a good one for everyone to follow. I am very well aware of the consequences of not having a good diet – diabetes can cause blindness, heart disease, kidney failure, and result in gangrene and amputations.

I’m writing this post to tell you about what I consider to be the one of the biggest things I’ve discovered to help people with diabetes in 35 years – the Freestyle Libre glucose monitor. Now I know exactly what is happening to my blood sugars 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  The system involves me applying a sensor to the back of my arm:

Freestyle Libre Sensor

You wouldn’t normally see it, as even a short sleeved shirt will hide it. To check my glucose levels I merely hold the reader over where the sensor is.

Scanning glucose levels using Freestyle Libre monitor

In a second it shows the current glucose reading, the latest 8 hours of glucose data and a trend arrow showing if glucose levels are going up, down or changing slowly. The trend arrows are particularly useful – a reading of 4.1 and going up is within the normal range,  but a reading of 4.1 and going down could mean I’m about to go into a coma (if I don’t take any action).

I can see trends:

Daily graph of glucose levels from Freestyle Libre sensor

and already I’m changing my diet to improve my control.

If this sounds like a commercial, I can assure you I’ve received no money from the manufacturers. I think it’s an exceptionally well designed product, it’s very easy to use and there’s good support from the manufacturers (see the videos here).  My biggest complaint about this product is the cost (it costs me nearly £4 a day). I’m hoping the price will come down, as more people use it, and also that the NHS might provide some help – as I believe it’s helping me to avoid all those undesirable complications….

Web: http://www.freestylelibre.co.uk

Independents’ Day

Today (the 4th July) is Independents’ Day. I believe there’s another, similar sounding festival across the Herring Pond, but the one I’m talking of aims to help independent retailers and those who serve consumers to get and stay open for business!

How did I celebrate Independents’ Day? I visited Cheerbrook Farm Shop
The Marquee at Cheerbrook
my local independent farm shop. We’re very lucky where I live – I could have gone to many other excellent small independent traders.

Andrew and Sarah Shufflebotham opened this award winning shop 15 years ago, and it’s gone from strength to strength. Today we had a chance to meet many of their (local) suppliers. They all take a pride in what they do, and are even anxious for you to have a free sample, because they know you’ll enjoy it (and hopefully buy it again in future).

That’s the beauty of shopping local. They don’t have expensive transport costs (or blocking motorways) and if something isn’t perfect they’re keen to know how they could improve it! There are no expensive accountants (saying we can’t afford to do that) and marketing teams who are more about conning you, than informing you.

I enjoyed talking to their producers, and finding out how their products are made and also getting tips on how to serve them.
Local cheeses
Take Wrenbury Cider for instance. Paul and Gill Sweeney are producing Cheshire cider and helping preserve traditional English orchards. Their cider is made from traditional cider apples, grown on their own land just 7 miles away. It’s made with 100% apple juice (the big producers are allowed to use only 30% apple juice and still call it cider)! If you’re counting your (alcohol) units, it’s weaker than wine. It’s also packed full of flavour, without any nasty additives. We didn’t just discuss cider, I had to ask how their Cheshire Shropshire sheep were (they live in Cheshire, but the breed is Shropshire).

My wife didn’t come with me, as she needed to go Nantwich Market. That’s because we think London Road Bakery GI bread is fantastic (and good for your health). They also do amazing gingerbread – but always sell out (by about 8:30am)! However when you shop local you can build up a relationship with your suppliers (so there’s always a bag for our family, providing we’re there by 10:30am).

Similarly our wonderful fishmonger (Stuart Hornby in Nantwich Market), looked after me when I lost my job last year. He suggested cheaper fish (that also tasted great) and occasionally I’d find an extra “gift” in my shopping. I don’t remember getting that sort of treatment in the big multiples, just BOGOF’s of things I only wanted one of…

So that’s way I was only too happy to support Independents’ Day. It makes shopping a pleasure and not a chore!

Web: www.independentretail.co.uk

Closed Shops

Closed sign on shop A report today, by the Local Data Company, tells us that one in five shops in the North are now empty.

I’m not surprised –  3 of the 10 towns with the highest vacancy rates:

  • Burslem 29.4%
  • Hanley 27.7%
  • Hartlepool 27.3%
  • West Bromwich 27.1%
  • Droylsden 26.8%
  • Morecambe 26.8%
  • Stoke 26.6%
  • Bootle 26.4%
  • Walsall 26.2%
  • Stockport 25.9%

are part of Stoke-on-Trent. This city has a wonderful heritage, but the traditional employers (coal mining, pottery, steel and making tyres) have more or less diasapeared. As a result the city is the 16th most deprived local authority area in England, with 29.9% of Stoke-on-Trent’s children classified as living in poverty.

Looking through the worst ten towns list, most are in the north. The survey shows one in five shops in the North are now empty, compared with one in 10 in the South, and social deprivation is part of the problem.

What’s the answer?

With more consumers shopping on-line and the growth of supermarkets some of this is inevitable. However there are things that can be done. The village of Saltaire in Yorkshire had a large mill that closed down. But now Salts Mill is a thriving tourist attraction with a gallery of David Hockney’s pictures. Saltaire village is a World Heritage Site, and as a result Saltaire has lots of thriving local independent shops (see here).

Burslem (which is top of the closed shop list with almost one in three shops closed) needs a bit of love and promotion. It’s got a wonderful Victorian park, fine statues of Sir Henry Doulton and Josiah Wedgwood, the wonderful Wedgwood Institute and how many other towns can boast three town halls? Fans of Arnold Bennett will love the Bursley Trail.

A big problem is poorer education in poorer areas. People in poor areas tend to eat less well and shop in supermarkets rather than local independents because they are perceived as more expensive. Do our children know their vegetables – and how to cook them to make cheap nutritious meals? No wonder greengrocers are disappearing and we’re all geting fatter!

I hope that those who are in a position to influence things will take note, and not adopt a “Let them eat cake” attitude – we all know what happened to the rich in the French revolution!

Farmers’ markets, and artisan markets, can help draw people to an area. The town I live in (Nantwich) has regular street entertainment and festivals etc and the town appears to be flourishing. Thankfully people’s shopping habits are changing, and many are abandoning the big shop at out of town supermarkets – which sucks money out of the area.

Lastly the onus is on you to help support local shops. Sometimes the supermarkets may be a few pence cheaper (but they’re good at conning you) and do you want your high street to look like this (taken in Anfield):

Retail shops closed down

Go on a diet – and lose ££££s!


At this time of the year everyone seems to be on a diet! The word diet originally comes from the Greek word diaita, meaning “way of living”, but now many people seem to be in a permanent cycle of dieting and overeating!

There’s a long history of dieting.  One of the first dieticians was the English doctor George Cheyne who, in 1724 wrote An Essay of Health and Long Life. Then there was the Vinegar and Water Diet, made popular by Lord Byron in the 1820s.

However in Victorian times being obese was a way of showing you were financially successful, just think of all the corpulent characters like Mr Bumble in Dicken’s novels.  The picture below (from Wellcome Images) is an advert for the effectiveness of J. Morison’s pills (the aim of these dodgy medicines was to put on weight)

An obese man exhibiting a placard

Apparently according to this site, James Morrison (the quack doctor behind these pills) appealed to the general public because of the missionary like zeal in which he opposed “orthodox” medicine!

You’d think today, with all the information about nutrition, we’d know better.  However our waist bands are expanding:


and even kids are getting diseases like Type 2 diabetes (which traditionally affected just elderley people).

A whole industry has sprung up to give us quick fix pills and silly diets.  There’s that much confusion that people have forgotten the basics – the more you eat the more weight you’ll put on, and exercise helps you lose weight:

The relationship between calories, exercise and diet

The food industry haven’t helped, introducing sugar (and even worse fructose) into foods which don’t need it and over processing everything. Wholefoods help you to feel full, but most people don’t eat much.  Tasty vegetables, like turnips and swede, are out of fashion – but contain around 90% water (and there’s no calories in water).

So, as I sit down to a bowl of delicious homemade vegetable soup, I’m not worried about putting on pounds.  Remember a diet is for life – and not just after Christmas!

Loaves for Lammas

Over this weekend Real Bread bakers and traditional millers around the country are taking up the Real Bread Campaign’s call to help Britain to rediscover the joys of the real thing by baking and buying Local Loaves for Lammas.

August 1 is Lammas Day (loaf-mass day), the festival of the wheat harvest, and on this day in the past it was customary to bake a loaf made from the new wheat crop.

Good Food Shops loves traditional bakers (see here) and is delighted to support the Real Bread Campaign, associated events are listed here.

Web: www.sustainweb.org/realbread