Saturday, 7 June 2008


A pleasant surprise then, the byelection result.

Liberal Democrat 610
Conservative 497

On a turnout of 28.58% - a pretty high turnout for a Town Council byelection, which I would have thought in this case would have favoured the Tory, as they seemed to have a lot more people on the ground.

If they can't take a Town Council seat in a single byelection when they can throw people from all over the constituency at it, then I think that augurs well for the Lib Dems here.

Whether we would be better off with a Conservative or a Labour government at national level is now, amazingly, a bit of a moot point. The biggest issue for me is ID cards, which the Tories claim they would scrap - though I have my suspicions that once in power, when they see a. the control it will give them (rather than someone else) over the populace, and, b. the costs of getting out of the contracts, that promise might fall by the wayside.

In any case, I can vote for a Liberal Democrat MP in the knowledge that though he's not perfect, that's one more small voice of liberal sanity (or indeed sane liberalism) in Parliament.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Town Council Byelection

I moved to Newhaven in 1986, having known from the age of about sixteen that the package of views and beliefs that I held marked me out as a liberal. During the 1987 General Election campaign, I finally got around to joining the Liberal Party, in the final year of its independent existence. However, for some reason I didn't vote in that election. Having been too young by a couple of months to vote in '83, the first election I actually voted in was for East Sussex County Council in 1989. That was the year that David Rogers, previously a councillor in Brighton, first took the Newhaven County division for the Liberal Democrats. He holds it to this day, and is one of our oldest friends - an older friend of Jim than of me, in fact; I first met Jim at David's birthday party. Who's that grumpy bugger, I thought.

Anyway, I quickly become quite an active party member - Newhaven branch and then Lewes constituency secretary, among other things (motto: The minutes of the meeting should reflect the lies that were actually told at the meeting, not the lies one subsequently wishes had been told (Norman Tebbit - obviously not all bad)). And in 1991, I stood as one of the slate of candidates for the then 16 (there are now 18) seats on Newhaven Town Council. We made a clean sweep that year, of 16 Town and 6 District seats to add to the County one. Newhaven was 100% Lib Dem, and has remained so ever since - seventeen years.

That might be about to change, though. A few weeks ago, polling cards landed on our door mat. I hadn't known there was going to be an election, but it turned out that one of the Town Councillors had been disqualified for non-attendance. This is what happens if you fail to turn up for more than six months - not a lot to ask, one might think. I ran into David on the train, and offered to do the odd leaflet delivery, for old times' sake, and I did, this morning. Then we went along and voted - including Baz, in his first ever election. There are only two candidates: the Liberal Democrat and a Conservative.

The thing is, we get the definite feeling that the Tory might snatch it. They have been out on such force, canvassing, leafleting, and with a big presence at the polling station. They're taking it very seriously. In the scheme of things, technically, it shouldn't matter. The Town Council is relatively unimportant; and it's only one seat out of eighteen. But it's a straw in the wind. The wind that is changing across the country. For the past seventeen years the Liberal Democrats here, where the only potentially serious opposition is Conservative, have benefited from Conservative unpopularity. If that unpopularity starts to fade, who knows what might happen?

Sunday, 25 May 2008

The Gambling Den

Continuing our stroll down the High Street, we come next to this very sorrowful looking building. We know it as the Gambling Den because its last incarnation was as an amusement arcade. The shop has been empty for a while now; I'm no good at keeping track of time but I would guess a couple of years. Jim thinks that before that it was a bookies, but I honestly can't remember. Funnily enough though, in the next shop down - also currently empty - the windows are filled with photos from OurNewhaven, the website which is collecting photos and stories about the town, and one of the photos was of this building. I really would have liked to put a link in to it but I can't find it on the site - it may be that they haven't uploaded it yet.

Anyway, it told me that the building in question was build in the 1920s to house the town's first dedicated optician, a Mr Gray. Previously glasses had been sold by the chemists, who also extracted teeth.

It looks as if this building - which is detached - is going to be demolished. A planning application to replace it with a block of five flats has been warmly received by the Town Council. The Town Council - of which more later - has no actual authority over planning matters, but makes recommendations to Lewes District Council, which is the planning authority. I cannot see there being any opposition to the building going though; there might however be reservations about the loss of a shop (well, there always were when I was on the Council), and perhaps more importantly, about parking - although there may be space at the back.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Down the High Street

OK, third time lucky - though what luck has to do with me keeping this up I don't know. Hopefully the better weather now will inspire me to get out and about taking more pictures and reporting on various Newhaven related snippets.

This is the start of a tour of the High Street - down one side and up the other - which should hopefully fill a few weeks. The High Street, which used to run through from the Brighton Road, to the west, at the top, down to Chapel Street taking traffic back onto the A259 and so on towards Seaford, and the coast, was pedestrianised in the 1970s. This has been blamed ever since for the lack of trade to the shops in the town centre. Indeed, looking at the town through strangers' eyes, as I am doing to write this, it is a pretty sorry sight. The first three shops that we see going down on the left hand side are empty, and they're by no means the only ones. In my view, though, for what it's worth, it's not pedestraianisation nor lack of parking that's sounded the town's death knell as a shopping destination. A population of 11,000 simply does not provide the critical mass required in the age of the car and the superstore. Since I've been here, we have lost two butchers, three greengrocers (we now have none of either); a splendid old-fashioned hardware shop, a couple of banks - I shall think of more as I stroll down the High Street. We are lucky to have retained, so far, a Somerfield (not the greatest shop on earth but infinitely preferable to walk down there with the basket on wheels that drive out to the overwhelming mega-Sainsbury's. Whether Somerfield will survive the coming of a Tesco Express on the old Saxonholme site, or indeed the company's own troubles (I was quite excited at the prospect of it being taken over by the Co-op, but that all seems to have gone a bit quiet lately.

Anyway, we start with the post office. At what was arguably the nadir of British architecture, the fifties and sixties, one body was pulling out all the stops in an effort to create buildings of the most oustanding ugliness even by the standards of the time: the GPO. This building housed both the sorting office and the local main Post Office. Under the mad semi-privatisation a few years ago, it was decided that the Post Office Counters side of the business had to be hived off from the sorting office and located in a shop. However, no local shop seemed to want to take it on - or couldn't for some reason, so a shop premises was purschased specially, set up as a greetings card emporium, and the Post Office relocated into there, about half way down the High Street. It's called Occasions. However, possibly predictably, the card business went no where - there are two other major suppliers in town, plus Woolworths - and the entire new shop is now to all intents and purposes a Post Office, its display shelves stacked with bubble wrap and brown paper. So all the cost of new premises - for what?

Meanwhile, the old Post Office languishes empty. I was told that all the while the sorting office is located there they can't sublet the other part of the premises for security reasons. I would like to say, though, that the sorting office provides a fantastic service. You get the impression, as you post a letter into one of its boxes, that it is immediately leapt on and dealt with. Certainly when I was writing every day to someone over a period of four months, sometimes posting late at night, my letters arrived without fail the next morning. The local postpeople (they are all men, actually) who operate out of there are great too, always cheerful and efficient.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

The Rail Replacement Bus

I had to go to work today - ah, poor me (not, I love my job), and I had to be in Stratford (East London, not Warwickshire) by ten o'clock. Easy peasy... I checked the train times, and saw that my train to Victoria left at 0735 rather than its weekday habit of 0740, and accordingly left the house five minutes earlier.

This photo - which (or part thereof) will, when I discover how to do it, grace the top of this blog - wasn't taken this morning; it was taken the other week when it was still frosty and misty. But this was where I turned up this morning, as I do three or four mornings each week, to be greeted on this occasion with the announcement that 'this station is closed today...' because of engineering works. OK, I should have known; no weekend is complete without Network Rail wanting to dig the track up somewhere, and they appear to have been tinkering with the bit between Lewes and London for quite some time, and clearly have their fingers in the Lewes-Seaford bit too (unless that's a knock-on effect from the other bit as trains from Lewes to London have to be routed via Brighton meaning that our little train has to keep off the Seaford-Brighton line...)

Listy interlude... the branch line goes: Seaford, Bishopstone, Newhaven Harbour, Newhaven Town, Lewes, Falmer, Moulsecoomb, London Road (Brighton), Brighton. To get to London one generally changes at Lewes and picks up a train that has come from Hastings or Eastbourne, although there are a few through trains each day: up at 0710 and 0828 (too early and too late for me respectively), and down at 1717 - from platform 17 at Victoria - which I usually try to get.

Anyway, this morning... I wasn't so much cross that they were having their engineering works, which are no doubt vital to stop the whole caboodle grinding to a halt; no, I was cross because they hadn't seen fit to mention it during the week - just a little announcement (god knows they repeat the totally stupid and pointless ones often enough); a notice, saying DON'T BOTHER TURNING UP HERE ON SATURDAY, WE HAVEN'T GOT ANY TRAINS or something would have helped. Yes, I'm sure it was on the website, maybe there was even a little official notice up somewhere, but really, it would have been a kindness to draw my attention to it.

So I turned around and headed for home, using the miracle of mobile telephony to get the OH out of bed and on standby to drive me to Lewes, and thenceforth completed my journey to Stratford uneventfully. On the way back, though, no lift was available and I put myself at the mercy of the dreaded Rail Replacement Bus. One reads such tales about the rag tag collection of superannuated Routemasters and white vans pressed into service by unregulated contractors that I was delighted to board a new, modern single decker and even more delighted when it left Lewes station no more than ten minutes later. It was only when we were nearly out the other side of Newhaven and the driver asked 'So, does anyone know where the train station is then?' that my prejudices were reassuringly confirmed. Fortunately there was on board an employee of the Southern Railway who was able to give him directions, and also to instruct him 'Then you go on down there to Newhaven Harbour, there won't be anyone there but you have to go anyway, then try to find somewhere to turn round and come back past here, and there's the road to Seaford...'

I'm not moaning, you understand. I love all this stuff.

Monday, 25 February 2008

The Hope Inn

I am totally useless as a source of local information. I can tell you almost nothing about the Hope Inn, on the West Quay (West Pier, it says on Google Maps, but to me the words West Pier will only ever denote a starling-inhabited wreck off the coast of Brighton).
It looks - there's a photo of the exterior here - like an Art Deco style building, all curvy ocean-going liner-shaped white concrete. You have to look hard to see that though as it's almost entirely obscured by large square conservatories top and bottom, and some timber cladding for good measure.
To the left, the pink building is Sea House, which was also at one point an inn. I always quite fancied living there. And then further to the left, that low brick construction is part of the Fort
This sign I can only presume was an earlier or original one, though it might have come from another pub entirely, and it now hangs in the interior. In the lower conservatory, in fact. Where we were seated, finally, belatedly, celebrating No. 2 son's eighteenth birthday last night.
The Hope is a nice enough pub, quite food orientated. I've been there many times over the years - as long as twenty years, in fact, as it was quite a favourite of my father's. The food has always been fine, and the beer is certainly good, with a good selection or real ales including Harveys and London Pride which were both fine yesterday, and not too cold (being a bit of a philistine, I actually like my beer a bit too cold). The interior has lots of wood and is a bit nautical, but I suppose that's allowed, in context. Lovely wooden floors.

Friday, 8 February 2008

A view you won't see any more

A259, Newhaven ringroad and swing bridge

This wasn't all that long ago - don't be fooled by the fact it's black and white, that was just me trying to be arty farty; or the dreadful quality - that's mainly because of the way it's scanned. I found this set of photos of Newhaven when I was sorting through my photo boxes last week. A few of them have my elder son in, aged about four, which would put them in the late 1980s/early 1990s (but that does lead me to wonder, if it was then, what had I done with younger son (b. Feb 1990)?)
North Quay

But all the same, you won't get quite this view again. These pictures were taken from the pedestrian bridge across the ringroad, which was demolished a few years ago and replaced with a pelican crossing. No one ever used the footbridge, except to hang banners off it (or occasionally take photos, I suppose). It was quite hairy - very high, and I swear it swayed as you walked across. Also there were lots of steps each side, and even if you didn't want to take your life in your hands it wasn't far to a crossing.
Footbridge over the ringroad, with small no.1 son. Denton Island behind

There are other pictures in the set of the town centre and the West Quay, so I thought it might be fun to do some 'then and now' comparisons. I say it wasn't long ago - but no. 2 son is eighteen the week after next, so we can at least show him how things have changed here over his lifetime. But there won't be any more taken from this vantage point.