The riverside at Castlefields

The riverside at Castlefields

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Recycling? Bring on Captain Cardboard!

Smarties tubes, tissue boxes, Shredded Wheat cartons, the boxes that sachets of Whiskas cat food come in, those stiff envelopes that amazon send you CDs in, old birthday cards, old post cards, packaging for a thousand different products . . . it's all cardboard.
You know what I'm talking about; the stuff that the council no longer picks up from your home as part of its recycling service.
As I read last week of angry environmental campaigners having a go at Shropshire Council over this matter, I was reminded of a Jason Falkner song in which there is a heartfelt plea to the garbage man – 'Why don't you leave my street?' he asks, wondering why the garbage man seems to be around all the time. Falkner sings: How can this street possibly excrete this much trash seven days a week?
And I have no doubt that we've all asked ourselves that about our own streets from time to time, especially as we roll out the wheelie bin packed to overflowing. Where does it all come from?
But at least we feel a little bit better knowing that our glass, our tins and cans, and our paper, will be recycled.
Not so long ago we felt even better because we knew that our cardboard was also going to a better place.
But then things changed and, all of a sudden, the council was no longer taking our cardboard away.
Now, we have two options. Take our cardboard ourselves to a recycling facility or just dump it in the wheelie bin with the non-recyclable rubbish.
Human nature being what it is, I think we always knew how this was going to pan out.
Frank Oldaker, from Shrewsbury Friends of the Earth, said the authority should 'hang its head in shame' following the decision not to reinstate collections - as well as its other decision to cut the opening hours at Shropshire's five recycling centres.
Funny. It sometimes seems an awfully long time ago now, but it was actually only November 2011 (so not that long ago) when Shropshire Council axed kerbside cardboard 
collections, forcing thousands of residents to drop off their cardboard at one of the recycling centres or else, as I say, simply dump it in their wheelie bin.
As always of course, there are two sides to any story.
To be fair to council chiefs, they had been looking at ways of bringing back the kerbside collections, but it was revealed earlier this month that a variety of alternative methods had been ruled out as either too expensive or simply unworkable.
To top it all, though, it was further announced that the opening hours at the county's five recycling centres will be cut from March in a bid to save £50,000 a year.
Yeah. It all comes down to money in the end.
Economies have to be made. Belts have to be tightened.
Mr Oldacre said he was furious at the decisions and added: “When other councils do collect and there is obvious enthusiasm by residents and a market, why not try harder?”
Shropshire Council's cabinet member for waste management, Mike Owen, said: “We understand people's disappointment that, due to a change in national regulations, we can't currently collect cardboard from the kerbside.”
I've no doubt they do understand. Just a heck of a pity they cannot do anything about it.
It will surprise no-one that cardboard recycling rates have taken a tumble in Shropshire since those kerbside collections were axed.
In fact, recycling rates have dropped by almost 60 per cent. That's an awful lot of Smartie tubes and Shredded Wheat cartons.
Last year, 1,676 tonnes of cardboard was dropped off at household recycling centres and cardboard banks across the county. But according to previous figures from Shropshire Council and its waste contractor Veolia, a whopping 4,000 tonnes was collected from kerbsides each year before the service was axed. That's quite a difference.
Councillors and their officers really need to take another look at this at the earliest opportunity because this is serious stuff. This is about carbon footprints and energy-saving and looking after our immediate environment as well as our wider environment.

Over in the States, meanwhile, climate expert Dr Eugene Cordero thinks a whole range of issues such as the disposal of rubbish and its relationship to climate change needs a superhero. He has come up with a character to inspire youngsters to take better care of their environment.
Enter the Green Ninja, the not-very-talkative martial arts master who whips up all sorts mayhem to teach young minds about the aforementioned carbon footprints and energy-saving strategies as well as gas-guzzling leaf blowers.
You know what?
Perhaps Shropshire also needs a super hero, and (however unsexy it may sound) his or her first job could be to re-introduce kerbside collections of cardboard.
Bring on Captain Cardboard!

Barking mad ideas for Shrewsbury

There have been some barking mad ideas put forward over the years in terms of 'improving' Shrewsbury.
Here's just a few:
Barking mad idea number one: Renaming Shrewsbury as Shrewsbury-upon-Severn. You know? Like Stratford-upon-Avon? This was suggested in the early 1990s. As if centuries of tradition can be overturned on a public relations whim. It would bring in more tourists, they said. Really? Would it really? Happily, the idea was quickly forgotten.
Barking mad idea number two: Sticking a spire on top of the 900-year-old Abbey Church to, er, make it more attractive. No, I'm sure I didn't dream this outlandish suggestion. I recall seeing an artist's impression of this, drawn up about 20 years ago. Who are these people? I mean, really. Who are these people?
Barking Mad idea number three: City status for Shrewsbury. Why? Shrewsbury is a wonderful, beautiful town. What's to be gained by being a city?
Barking Mad idea number four: In the sixites (and, boy, does that decade have a lot to answer for?) someone (around the time of the Beeching axe falling upon our railway network) seriously suggested sweeping away our magnificent Victorian railway station and replacing it with a 'modern' construction of concrete and glass. If that had got the go-ahead, I would have settled for nothing less than the perpetrators being tied to a railway line and run over by a 50-truck freight train - three times!
It's reassuring to know that none of the above ever got beyond the barking mad suggestion stage.
However, plenty of barking mad suggestions DO gain credibility and DO eventually get the go-ahead.
For instance, the highly controversial plan to bring forward the frontages of several shops at Princess House in The Square has brought another barking mad idea to mind.
This current scheme may well be thought of as barking mad in its own right by many a protester (and I myself am not thrilled by the idea), but it is not this plan, in itself, to which I refer.
Bickering about the exact proportions of Princess House seems almost trivial in a sense. Because Princess House should never have been allowed in the first place.
This soulless stack of shoeboxes was parachuted down into Shrewsbury's otherwise gorgeous historic Square in the early seventies, replacing (almost unbelievably) the grand Italian-style Shirehall, designed by Sir Robert Smirke and completed in 1837.
Oh, and please don't try telling me, by the way, that the street-level sections of this fine building could not have been tastefully converted into shop units. This kind of thing has been done in plenty of other towns and cities up and down the country. It could have been done in Shrewsbury too.
But no. They had to go and smash the old Shirehall down, didn't they?
Just like they smashed down the Victorian market hall and the Crown Hotel and the Raven Hotel and the George Hotel. 
And then, as if this vandalism were not enough, they thought: Okay, what shall we put in The Square now to replace that old Italian-style place? Oh, I know. How about a building like the ones they have in Milton Keynes? That'll look really good!
And there we have it. My fifth example to add to my list of barking mad ideas.
And now we come to that notion of bringing forward the shop fronts by five feet, a notion that is to go before the Secretary of State in the coming weeks before a final decision is made by the Department of Transport.
The developers who want to extend the shops (thus getting rid of the 'overhang' which currently exists beyond the front doors and above a few feet of pavement space) think this would make the shops more attractive to customers, more visible to shoppers, and a better proposition for traders, changing the minds of those businesses that might otherwise abandon The Square.
The protesters say the move would swallow up much-needed pavement space, especially as there will be (they say) an extra 200,000 visitors each year when the new ShrewsburyMuseum opens at the old Music Hall. It could also, they say, seriously compromise big crowd-pulling events like the Christmas lights switch-on.
I have to say my sympathies are firmly with the protesters on this one.
But, as I say, we should never have ended up with Princess House in the first place.
Meanwhile, for further insights, may I direct readers to Pauline Fisk's excellent blog, My Tonight From Shrewsbury? Visit:

The Peach Tree, 900 new homes, and good old John Menzies

My wild mushroom and spinach risotto was delicious, and the company of my family, as always, a joy, but none of that stopped me admiring the extraordinary curved beams in the wall of this restaurant.
We were in The Peach Tree in Abbey Foregate the other night, celebrating the birthday of our middle son (a funny phrase – 'middle son' – I know, but how else do you describe the son who is not the eldest and not the youngest?) and we were having a good laugh, discussing a New Zealand-based comedy duo called Flight of the Conchords.
We were giggling like children as we recalled a video we'd seen of the Conchords being asked to compose and record a charity record for Comic Relief, but, as I say, these beams had caught my eye.
You can, I have discovered, laugh heartily and view architectural gems at the same time. Is this multi-tasking?
Anyway . . .
Not everyone who visits The Peach Tree (part of the C21 nightclub complex) will appreciate that they are in fact sitting in one of Shrewsbury's oldest buildings.
Take a closer look at this range of structures and it turns out that numbers 18-21 Abbey Foregate are, in truth, two cruck-framed houses that have been dated by dendrochronological evidence to the first half of the fifteenth century.
Numbers 18-19 date from 1408 (just five years after the Battle of Shrewsbury) and numbers 20-21 from 1430.
Almost unbelievably (I say 'almost' because in actual fact I remember this very clearly myself) this range of buildings was used as a garage from the 1920s up until the 1980s. Yes - a garage!
Far better, I think, that it now a superb restaurant and successful nightspot, allowing us to enjoy some of its architectural grandeur in warmth and comfort and (if the fancy takes you) with a wild mushroom and spinach risotto to help you forget about the chilly winter night outside.

There are huge and ambitious plans in the pipeline to build around 900 new homes off Oteley Road, Shrewsbury. The Sutton Grange development is one of the first residential phases of the Shrewsbury South Sustainable Urban Extension Masterplan which was approved by Shropshire Council's ruling cabinet last October.
It's funny how things turn out. Remember (not so very long ago) the fuss that was made by some residents in the run-up to Shrewsbury Town Football Club's new stadium being built off Oteley Road. Well, the new stadium went ahead. Then came plans for a new Waitrose supermarket and revamped Percy Thrower's Garden Centre along that stretch, and now the (deep breath please) Shrewsbury South Sustainable Urban Extension Masterplan. This edge of the town is about to be changed forever.

I note with great interest that exactly 40 years ago a plum shopping spot in Shrewsbury town centre was snapped up by what was then one of Britain's fastest-growing companies, the John Menzies group. They had signed a 26-year lease to take over the Morris's SaveRite shop in Pride Hill. They were to redevelop the site into a large superstore selling newspapers, magazines, books, greetings cards, toys, records and stationery. I expect WS Smith was a little concerned about this at the time. However, in 1998 the John Menzies retail operation was sold to WH Smith and the Menzies name disappeared from the high street.
I have to say I have very fond memories of John Menzies in Shrewsbury and bought many a record from there: Crime of the Century by Supertramp, Country Life by Roxy Music, Bad Company by Bad Company, Walls and Bridges by John Lennon, Venus and Mars by Wings, oh yes. Does anyone else out there remember gramophone records?

Lulu in the nude - and when the stars came to Shrewsbury

“I got quite a shock, I can tell you. But she seemed completely unperterbed,”  So explains John Holding as he tells me of the day he saw pop star Lulu in the nude.
“Well, to be accurate, she wasn’t completely in the nude, but she wasn’t wearing very much at all, let’s put it that way.”
John worked at Shrewsbury’s principal hotels during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s - “the golden age” as he likes to say - when showbusiness royalty frequented the county town, the big names of the day performing at The Granada or The Music Hall.
“Lulu would have been in her twenties at the time and on this occasion  she had a bit of a sore throat and had requested a drink of honey and lemon. So I walked into her room with this honey and lemon and there she was sitting there topless. She obviously thought nothing of it. She just asked me to leave the drink on the table and that was that.”
John was at Shrewsbury’s famous Lion Hotel at this time, and before joining the staff of the Lion, he had worked at the much-missed Raven Hotel in Castle Street. During those years he served as apprentice chef, porter, head porter and hotel manager, and he talks of those times with tremendous affection.
During this period he met and greeted Morcambe and Wise, Cliff Richard, Max Bygraves, Lionel Blair, song and dance man Frankie Vaughan, Adam Faith, Coronation Street’s Elsie Tanner, Diddy David Hamilton, jazz legends Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball, TV celebrity and game show host Hughie Green, singing stars Helen Shapiro, David Whitfield and Petula Clarke, and the great comedian Tony Hancock.
Every one of them experienced the warm welcome, friendliness and professionalism of the ever-enthusiastic John, a man clearly proud of having served the public (as well as the showbusiness elite) over many years.
I first interviewed John back in 2001 and bumped into him again recently. Because he has had such a colourful career and because he has much to say about the Shrewsbury of yesteryear compared to the Shrewsbury of today, we thought it would be good to get together for another chat. 
And when it comes to chat, believe me, there is no stopping this man!
Only one of John’s showbiz-related memories has been forever tarnished by recent revelations and that is his meeting with Jimmy Savile.
“He was doing a Lands End to John O’Groats cycle ride at the time. I had got him to sign in at The Lion. So he comes sweeping in: ‘Ah, good evening young man!’ he says. So I pass him the book to sign in and he writes straight across the page: ‘Jimmy Savile was here!’ Of course, at that time, everyone thought he was a lovely man. And the next morning, everyone was clapping and waving him off. Ah, well.”
John, who lives on Sunnybank Road, Shrewsbury, with his wife Beryl, and who also dotes upon his stepson Mike and stepdaughter Sue, is 73 and soon to retire, having spent the last six and half years working at Sainsbury’s.
He spent four years at The Raven, those last four years before it closed in 1959. “Nowadays there would have been uproar that such a beautiful old building with so much history should be under threat of demolition. Nowadays, you see, it would have been saved and would be the equivalent of The Grosvenor in Chester, a place where people would simply have to go to have their coffee and scones. The head waiters back in the golden age wore white gloves. It was a wonderful place.”
“We just haven’t got that quality any more. We haven’t got the etiquette any more. Every customer at The Raven would have his cases carried for him. I was in stripes and coat-tails. I’m talking about a time when Shrewsbury had the Wildings store across the road in Castle Street, Modelia’s ladies clothes shop, Morris’s restaurant on Pride Hill, and the lovely old Granada which had a superb restaurant upstairs. There was Sidoli’s across the road from The Raven. He was another gentleman with a lot of etiquette. Those days are gone.”
John, like me, also mourns the loss of the Victorian market hall and The George Hotel (although I don’t remember either of these myself and know them only from old photographs). Both, had they survived, would surely have been assets now in a beautiful old town like Shrewsbury.
But why does Shrewsbury no longer attract the big stars (even with its spanking new Theatre Severn?)
John says simply: “It’s a different age now. I’m not sure we have stars of that calibre any more.”