Boris bikes for BoA? Donelan is cycling up the wrong track

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On May 13th Mayor of London, Boris Johnson visited the local area and spent some time chatting to Michelle Donelan (who is standing to be the next Member of Parliament for the Chippenham constituency which covers Chippenham, Corsham, Bradford on Avon, Melksham and the surrounding villages) who, on her blog, states how she asked Johnson for his thoughts about investing in a local bike hire scheme in Bradford on Avon to ease the congestion problems faced in the town.

Donelan writes: 

Traffic congestion is a serious concern for residents and businesses Bradford on Avon. I have been listening to their frustrations and I share their concerns about it and the impact on air pollution in our town. One idea could be a cycle scheme similar to the London Boris Bikes. This won’t be suitable for everyone and there will costs, although in London that is heavily subsidised by sponsorship. We also have the hills to contend with so we might have to look at ideas around electric bikes.

Bradford on Avon Town Council have spent a lot of time studying a Traffic Survey that they hope will identify for them where the traffic is moving to and from when it causes congestion in the centre of town. In April a post to ‘Bradford on Avon Matters’ suggested that we would soon find out what action needs to be taken to help reduce the traffic and its impact on the town. 

Chair of the Bradford on Avon Air Quality Alliance, Cllr Rosemary Brown, said: “We have been waiting for a long time to get a better understanding of the facts about the town’s traffic issues. The traffic study will provide the detail we need. And the valuable work undertaken by volunteers and groups during the extensive Priority for People consultations will then help us put some detailed proposals together that may finally enable us to deliver improvements.”

On May 16th Peter Duford posted to Bradfordonavon.com that the Bradford on Avon Area Board had agreed its priorities for 2014-2016 at its meeting on 14 May based on the evidence from the Joint Strategic Assessment for Bradford on Avon and voting outcomes from the “What Matters To You in Bradford on Avon” event held across the town in February.

Included in these priorities was:

-To respond to the findings of the Traffic Study, including developing new traffic management and signage strategies across the community area and beyond

I very much doubt that Boris Bikes would have been considered as a strategy considering that it’s likely that most traffic causing congestion in the town is coming from outside the town and travelling to a destination outside of the town as although early numbers from the traffic study show that 16% of traffic starts and ends its journey outside of the town boundaries and the rest either starts here, ends here, or is totally within the town boundaries, a bike hiring scheme would not have an impact on traffic that travels outside of the town. Only traffic that goes from A to B within the town limits.*

How exactly Boris Bikes would act as an alternative for out of town traffic is beyond me. Especially considering that common destinations like Bath and nearby Wiltshire towns are at least 5 miles away in most cases.

Would drivers really want to cycle that far through areas where there are often no cycle paths and just fields full of cows for miles? Where would they leave their cars in Bradford on Avon, a town that has a shortage of parking for residents, let alone out of town visitors? There are more questions that answers with this frankly bizarre suggestion from Donelan. 

It should be obvious to anyone that Bradford on Avon isn’t like London when it comes to commuting or travelling. Providing Boris Bikes here is not the solution so badly sought by residents who are starting to run out of the patience they have so long maintained.

This is a town with poor air quality and poor pedestrian access throughout.  A town where local businesses are struggling while the town council work as fast as they can to find a solution. What we don’t need is a potential member of parliament for our constituency making ill-informed decisions about what’s best in an attempt to show that she really cares. Michelle Donelan has demonstrated here that she might not have her finger on the pulse of a town she so badly wants to represent. 

*Thank you to Shay Parsons for bringing my attention to early stats from the study I wasn’t aware of at the time of writing.

The latest Beast of Trowbridge photo is a Hoax

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Beast of Trowbridge?
The latest photo of the Beast of Trowbridge

Some of my fellow Wiltshire residents have been very, very naughty people and I am not amused. The Wiltshire Times recently broke the story that the legendary Beast of Trowbridge had recently been spotted in Winsley by a couple who were out walking. The beast is thought to be some type of a big cat – a puma or panther. It has been seen in various areas in and around Trowbridge, the county town of Wiltshire, over a number of years and is quite an interesting social phenomenon if nothing else. I can remember the early reports of the Beast that originated from the village of Hilperton (where I grew up) that sits on the outskirts of Trowbridge. I grew up having bad dreams about the beast being on the prowl nearby, and this is why I am always interested when the legend raises its head each time.

The Wiltshire Times story about the most recent sighting of the Beast reports

A Winsley couple had quite a shock when they encountered the infamous beast of Trowbridge on Saturday morning. Herbert and Doreen Smith were walking in Murhill Woods, at around 10.30am, when they spotted the big black cat.

Down the years, the creature, which has been described as being a puma or a panther, has been spotted in Trowbridge, Staverton and Westbury Leigh amongst others places. Mr Smith, 71, who lives in Winsley, said: “Our first impression was sheer astonishment, we really could not believe our eyes at what we were seeing. The animal was eating what we believe it had just caught.

Winsley is very close to where I live and even closer to where I work, so I was extremely interested in this sighting. The photo that was attached to the story (as seen at the top of this post) shows a dark coloured animal with a long curved tail, it’s head bent towards the ground as though it is eating or sniffing something, just as Mr Smith reported. However, my initial thoughts were that this was some sort of dog – a German or Belgian Shepherd perhaps, that had been misidentified. I haven’t been able to really look into this though because I have been busy preparing for a talk I am delivering in Stockholm next week.

However, thanks to the detective work of John Nuttall of the Lancashire Anomalous Phenomena Investigation Society (LAPIS) I don’t have to do any digging because he has cracked this case wide open.

The photograph wasn’t even taken in Winsley… hell, it wasn’t even taken in the United Kingdom and is, in fact. a still from a trail cam set up in Lapeer County, Michigan to try and observe Cougars in the wild there. It would seem that Herbert and Doreen Smith have saved a copy of this photo, added a fake date stamp to it, and made up a back story to go along with it.

Original source of the photo
Gee. That looks familiar…

I don’t know if Mr & Mrs Smith even exist, I don’t know the details of how they reported this to The Wiltshire Times, and I don’t know the motivations behind hoaxing such a sighting – for a laugh, perhaps? Or maybe just because they could? Either way, it’s a pretty crap thing to do. I will chase this up with The Wiltshire Times on Monday morning to see if they will run a follow up story on this hoax.

comparison

This is not the snake you are looking for

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My local paper, The Wiltshire Times, ran a story on Monday 23rd July detailing how the owner of a six-foot-long Boa Constrictor in Chippenahm, Wiltshire informed police that the snake was missing which prompted a police investigation into its whereabouts. They asked anyone with information about where the snake is to contact the police via the non-emergency phone number.

The only problem is that the snake  had been located the week before the paper ran the story (and was 5 foot long, not 6). Not only is this really sloppy journalism, it’s also a potential catalyst for false sightings of six-foot-long Boa Constrictor snakes – a bit like sightings of Big Cats reported by the press resulting in other people seeing Big Cats when they’re really looking at a dog or something similar. I’ve experienced this myself – when ‘the Beast of Trowbridge’ was a thing I saw a dark coloured creature running down the canal towpath as I crossed over the canal on a bridge. Looking down at the animal I was convinced it was a big black cat until it turned to reveal it was a large dog.

It’s a shame that this sort of reporting happens and it’ll be interesting to see if people start seeing Boa Constrictors everywhere…

Religious Bullies

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Cross posted from The Heresy Club

Last week the The Wiltshire Times reported that Forty Sikh militants locked themselves in the Kembrey Street temple in Swindon to stop a Sikh woman marrying a Christian man of West African background. They locked the doors and gates of the Gurdwara, near Kembrey Park, before leaving more than six hours later. During that time they ate the wedding breakfast and allegedly threatened to kill the caterers if they didn’t leave.

This ended with the couple bowing to this intimidating pressure and removing the religious element of their wedding so the ceremony could go ahead. The ceremony had been agreed by the Gurdwara’s managing committee, but they were powerless to act after several vans full of men turned up on Saturday morning. Raghdir Bains, a committee member at the Punjabi Community Centre, said:

Nearly everybody in the Sikh community in Swindon is absolutely against what took place. We live in a multi-cultural society and if that’s the wish of the girl and her parents then it should go ahead. The majority of the hardliners were from Birmingham and Southall and they have been responsible for damage to another temple in Walsall. The committee had accepted the booking and it should have gone ahead. Local families went to the gates to complain, but there was no one to stop the militants.

A spokesman for Wiltshire Police commented

We can confirm that we dealt with a small protest by a group of men in Swindon on Saturday. The protest was conducted peacefully. We believe the protestors objected to an event which was due to take place at the Swindon gurdwara. Our officers continue to liaise with the protestors and the community.

I fully support a persons right to protest peacefully but there is something quite sinister about this protest. The militants claimed on a youtube video of the protest (which is now listed as private) that they had

…acted peacefully to stop an inter-faith union at the temple.

In 2007 Sri Akaal Takhat Sahib – the Supreme seat of authority of the Sikhs – issued a decree stating that Sikh marriage ceremonies should only be conducted when both the bride and groom are Sikhs (as a respect toward Sikh religion) in response to a rising number of interfaith ceremonies taking place in Gurdwara Sahib across the world. The decree also stated that if either of the couple is not a Sikh they must embrace the Sikh faith before the marriage ceremony, and should also change their surname in accordance to tradition.

It seems relaxing the Sikh Code of Conduct to accommodate the wishes of individuals is considered a big no-no to many. However, in the case of the marriage ceremony taking place in Kembrey Street temple in Wiltshire, the codes had been relaxed to accomodate for the couple wanting to get married. The Gurdwara’s managing committee had accepted the interfaith ceremony and the local Sikh community expressed that they largely accepted the ceremony with Dr Harbans Popli, a senior figure in Swindon’s Sikh community condemning the protesters and stating

The family is very upset and angry. This is against all our morals and principles.

The only people who had an issue were those Sikh men who travelled from Birmingham and Southall to disrupt the ceremony despite it not stopping them from continuing to follow their religion how they wish to.

What disgraceful religious bullies.

My first visit to a crop circle

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“Crop circles are boring! Why not visit something like Avebury instead?” I grumbled into my microphone during the recording of another episode of the Righteous Indignation podcast. It was a few months ago now, but the words echoed through my head as I waded through chest-deep rape seed oil crop, trying to locate the centre of the crop circle that had been photographed in the field recently.

What made me decide to go and visit a crop circle? Well, I’ve been ill lately and my doctor told me that getting out and about would help me recover. When I read that a circle had been found in Avebury, Wiltshire (which isn’t that far from home) I decided it was the perfect time to get out as my doctor had instructed, while visiting a crop circle as many people had insisted I did for quite some time now. I was able to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.

Crop cricles have always been artistic creations that I have admired photographs of, but I’ve never really understood the obsession people have for visiting the sites these circles are made in.

It had been over an hour since we’d stopped in a small road-side parking bay and made our way into the field that we finally found the circle. It was the first crop circle I have ever stood in, and although I didn’t feel any energy or presence as many people who flock to these sorts of formations report, I did sense the wonder of the design. To know what the design looked like from above and to try and picture it as you stood inside it was an interesting experience.

I grew up in a farming village and because of this the impact of the ruining of crops does sit heavily at the back of mind because as children we would be told off for playing in crop fields before the farmer had collected his harvest. However, to see perfectly curved lines laying out in front of you in the crop, the stalks of which are all laying down upon one another in one direction, is quite a beautiful thing.

I should probably explain now that I do not believe these circles are created by aliens or anything paranormal in nature – I believe they are created by humans. In fact it was clear to see that a stomping board had been used as some of the stalks of crop were snapped at the bottom.

I recorded some audio that will be on a future episode of the Righteous Indignation Podcast, including an interview with a couple we met in the circle who believed the circle was created by aliens and Earth energies.

Even though I don’t agree with them, it was lovely to hear about why they had visited the circle, and what significance it had for them. As the man, Steve, commented, these circles give people something to visit, they’re interesting, and they bring people together – people who probably wouldn’t have spoken had it not been for the fact that they were all awkwardly standing in the middle of a field.

I am slowly becoming a crop circle fan. Oh dear.

To view my photos from the day click here to be taken to a facebook gallery.