The snow and ice are back, at the time of writing at least, and with them the usual crop of complaints about ungritted roads. The Highways Department not surprisingly have a list of priority routes, the first priority being the ‘A’ roads followed by second priority ‘B’ roads and other main connecting routes. In our case the (second) priority route is that between Blakeney and Letheringsett which has been clear most of the time and represents only a small detour for Cley residents wishing to get to Holt. Unless you live up on the Heath, in which case you’re stuffed. This year the Cley-Holt road, considered priority three so only done if everything else is clear, was eventually gritted but I suspect this had more to do with a bloke turning over his truck by Newgate Farm than any number of representations by your Parish council. Fortunately the driver was unhurt. So, the lesson is clear – if you want your road gritted stage a spectacular accident or two. Expensive, but cheaper than buying your own gritter.
The problem is justifying expense for something that may only happen rarely. Okay, we’ve had two snowy winters in a row but there is no guarantee there will be a third one next year, or following years. If we could guarantee that then it would be worth investing in extra snowploughs and gritters – and persuading/compelling drivers to fit winter tyres like they do on parts of the mainland. Meanwhile the Cley-Holt road will continue to be a white knuckle ride every time it snows.
As an aside, I remember the winter of ‘63 which was so seriously cold that snow lay on the ground until May in parts of Wales. In those days sensible motorists fitted chains to their car tyres to give better grip – and make a helluva racket when you run out of snow. I do remember one driver struggling a bit with his brand new Mini despite having fitted chains… to the rear wheels. That sort of thing wouldn’t happen in Norfolk.
The Highways office at Aylsham, which covers our area, has a new Resident Engineer by the name of Michael Woodhouse. He has come up with a revised plan for the drainage of the Fairstead which is simpler, cheaper and probably more effective. What’s more he intends to start in February 2011. Wow! Assuming they can penetrate the permafrost they will dig a [expletive deleted] big hole in front of the back entrance to Cley Hall which will house a large multi-chamber soakaway fed by three new gullies. Seems better than piping the water half way round the village. There will probably be a bit of inconvenience for people living north of The Hole but nothing a quick course in stunt driving couldn’t overcome. I was going to say a crash course, but thought it too appropriate. We’ve been fighting to get this work done for years, certainly for as long as I’ve been keeping the chairman’s seat warm, so now that it is about to happen there is a sense almost of disbelief. We wait with bated breath.
While on the Fairstead, some people are still parking opposite the entrance to the Village Hall causing problems for the drivers of large vehicles such as dust carts or the glass recyclers’ lorry who need to gain access to the car park. While there are no yellow lines in the village, people are expected to park with intelligence and consideration for other road users. Those who don’t can be done for obstruction – or worse, have the side of their vehicles ripped out.
Your councillors have had an opportunity to read the standard BT contract for those adopting a phone box. As it runs to about 20 pages of legalese they could be forgiven for not finishing it. The contract specifies in great detail how the box is to be cared for, the standards of painting required, the precautions to be taken in case there is lead in earlier coats of paint, the names of recommended (equals only) suppliers of paint and glass etc etc. In short one pays £1 for the privilege of hanging a very large and very expensive millstone around one’s neck. It would be cheaper to sponsor the thing and get BT to do the maintenance at a mere £300 a year.
On the other hand, subsidising calls to the tune of £17 a time – the price we would be paying divided by the number of calls likely to be made – does seem rather extravagant in these artificially straitened times, so the council has reluctantly decided that the box has to go. BT will have the hassle of obtaining listed building consent and the expense of removing it and making good, so they may not be in too much of a hurry to do the dirty deed. Enjoy it while you can – that box has been part of our village landscape for over seventy years – perhaps, even, you could celebrate by making a call from it. You just need a phone card obtainable from all good Post Offices. Ah, the rural Post Office. Another endangered species. I always get nervous whenever the government, New Labour or Old Tory alike, starts talking about the need to safeguard rural Post Offices as it is usually the prelude to their sticking another knife into the wretched beast.
Ask not what your council can do for you but what you can do for your council. Stand for it, for starters. There are elections next May and we will be needing some new members of the council to replace those standing down. We don’t ask much, just energy, commitment, loyalty and probity, and an e-mail address. Anyone contemplating such a step is advised to attend a meeting to see what goes on and how business is conducted. By sheer chance there will be just such a meeting on Tuesday 4 January – should give enough time for the New Year hangover to subside – at 7pm in the Social Club. Coincidence? I don’t think so.