I see that once again our dear old post office has let us all down. It's been closed throughout the Christmas period due to flooding. Well, I don't see any water inside the building and as far as I know they've had no power cuts. So is it a case of any excuse will do to close early or not open at all? Or do they have genuine reason? Come off it guys this is a vital service, especially for businesses, and you should be pulling out all the stops to open up as normal as possible. What is everyone meant to do? Go to a sub post office? Oh, that's right, they've all been closed down!...
If you are a swimmer and your New Year's resolution is to get fit TonbridgeBlog suggests that you take up running. It simply will be no excuse that Tonbridge Swimming Pool is likely to be closed for January and February, at the very least, by the looks of things. The pool's website suggests this by saying that direct debits for the fitness pool and spa have been frozen although actually the official line is "a number of weeks." It seems that those flood barriers around the pool, constructed at enormous expense after the last floods over a decade ago, weren't up to the job. As this is the first time that they've been properly tested that's pretty shoddy really when you think about it. It is our understanding here at TonbridgeBlog that a decision was taken by the borough council officials, when the swimming pool was being planned, to save money by NOT adequately protecting the pool against the possibility of flooding based on it being, statistically, a once in a hundred years possibility. Well guys at the council that was a big error of judgement as this flood makes it twice in 13 years! To give them the benefit of the doubt maybe the damage would have been a hell of a lot worse if the barriers weren't there this time. As it is it looks like we (the tax payer) will have to fork out for new equipment and a massive decontamination and clean up operation. Think I'll stick to running and canoeing!...
Read updates on the swimming pool's website and on This is Kent site
I've been away a bit so haven't been able to report much on the great Tonbridge floods. Mr. Books is part way up a hill so I knew the shop and, more importantly, the books would survive but I did have a bit of a hairy moment when I heard the loud speaker vans going around announcing evacuations like some scene from a disaster movie! People were lining the big bridge to see the river in what can only be described as torrent. It was up to road level at the bridge. Wetherpoons was closed (actually the only time I've ever fancied a spur of the moment pint there!) and my understanding is that it hasn't reopened all of Christmas. Very costly indeed for the pub chain I should imagine but I'm sure they'll claim most of it back on insurance. Further down the High Street on Christmas Eve there were police and Environment Agency officials in high viz jackets everywhere you looked. I knew how serious things were though when I realised that even McDonalds had been forced to close. That must be a first! The car parks in the riverside apartments were under two feet of water even on Boxing Day when I went for an investigative walk. Funny that, what with them being below the river level and all! Not sure of the wisdom of that idea. But, then again, presumably they were built like that on the understanding that the Leigh flood barrier could hold back even the Red Sea and thereby protect Tonbridge. The question remains as to whether or not the barrier did do just that or, as some were muttering last week, that there was some sort of mechanical fault and the barrier failed us. Anyone aware of the latest thinking on that? Did they successfully regulate the flow of the Medway or did someone or something make a boo boo? .... Some pictures will follow soon
To put you all in the Christmas mood here's a few pictures from Slade School's Nativity play entitled, rather amusingly, "A Midwife Crisis" Don't they all look lovely. Merry Christmas to everyone who lives in Tonbridge or indeed used to live here or has anything to do with our wonderful town....
Always worth remembering that, although we don't have a cinema in Tonbridge (yet) you can watch some fairly up to date films at the Angel Centre from time to time. There's lots of social clubs and other things going on down there as well. I'm particularly intrigued as to what the Gassers and Rubber Fanciers get up to. I'm told that it's some sort of modelling club and completely harmless. Still, the mind boggles!....
EVENTS - JANUARY 2014
Although Christmas is not yet
upon us, we thought you might like to see what's in store at the Centre in the
New Year. There are lots of events taking place during the
month including an SRP Toy Fair, IPWUK Wrestling Spectacular
and two great films - Philomena and Captain Phillips.
Don't forget that the Lions Club Christmas Panto is taking place this weekend
and there are still tickets available - more information below.
- 2 hours long
Tuesday 14 January -
2.45pm & 5.30pm
Wednesday 15 January - 8.15pm
Thursday 16 January - 2.45pm, 5.30pm & 8.15pm
A world-weary political journalist picks up the story of a woman's search for
her son, who was taken away from her decades ago after she became pregnant and
was forced to live in a convent. Stars Judy Dench and Steve Coogan.
Captain Phillips (12A) - 2 hours 30
Tuesday 14 January - 8pm
Wednesday 15 January - 2.15pm & 5.15pm
The true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali
pirates of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship to
be hijacked in two hundred years. Stars Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi and Barkhad
Tickets are available in advance from the Box Office - 01732
359966. Adults £6 Children/Senior Citizens £5
January & December
SRP Toy Fair -
Tuesday 7 January
The Toy Fair takes place in the Medway Hall from 6.30pm to 8.30pm.
Area Planning Meeting -
Thursday 16 January
This meeting takes place in the Riverside Lounge at 7.30pm.
The event takes place in the Medway Hall from 5pm. Tickets cost £13
adults, £9 for under 16s, Family £37 and VIP Package £40. For more information
Sleeping Beauty at the
Angel Centre - 20 & 21 December
Tickets are still available for the panto this Friday/Saturday. Following the
hugely successful production of Jack & The Beanstalk last December, the
Tonbridge Lions Club are delighted to join forces again, with the Angel Centre,
to produce the popular pantomime The Sleeping Beauty on Friday 20 December
(7.30pm) and Saturday 21 (10.30am. 2.30pm and 6.30pm). Each performance will
raise much needed funds for local Tonbridge charities.
The Sleeping Beauty, widely regarded as one of the most delightful fairy tales
ever written, is a truly magical story of adventure, music, romance and fun.
Share the adventures of the beautiful Princess Briar Rose, her handsome Prince,
dotty Fanny Annie and not forgetting Nuts the Monkey! As with all the best
pantos this hugely entertaining Christmas romp includes masses of audience
participation and wonderfully boo-able villains.
Tickets cost £11 for adults, £9 for children/concessions and £32 for a family
ticket. Places are limited, so please book early to avoid disappointment!
Contact the Angel Centre box office on 01732 359966.
Every Friday in the Medway Hall from 8am to 1pm. Contact Mrs Carmichael
01732 456196 for further information or to book a stall.
Weight Watchers sessions take place every Tuesday at 12.45pm and 6.15pm in the
Jubilee Room. Contact 08457 123000 for more information.
Blood Donors Session
Sessions are held regularly in the Medway Hall - the next will take place on
Thursday 9 and 21 January. For more information contact the National Blood
Transfusion Service on 0845 771 1711.
Meetings held on the first Wednesday of every month at 2pm in the Medway
Hall. On 8 January speaker Pat Mortlock will discuss 'Tonbridge: The
Growth of a Market Town.' For further information visit www.tonbridgeu3a.org/index.html.
Tonbridge Flower Arrangement
The Club will meet again on Wednesday 22 January at 2.15pm. New members
Tonbridge Civic Society
The next meeting will take place on Tuesday 21 January when speaker Sir
Paul Britton will discuss: The Architectural History of Tonbridge. For
more information please visit www.tonbridgecivicsociety.org.uk.
Tonbridge Decorative &
Fine Arts Society
Meetings held monthly at 2.30pm in the Medway Hall - new members always
welcome. On 23 January Rosalind White will discuss: LS Lowry - The Painting of
Modern Life. For more information contact 01622 754929 or visit www.nadfaskentarea.org.uk.
Society of Friends
The Society of Friends meets monthly in the Vauxhall Room. The
next meeting will take place on Sunday 19 January. For further information
contact Mrs Heydecker on 01732 365781.
Held on second Wednesday of each month from 10am to 12 noon, new members
always welcome. On Wednesday 8 January its Chatter Day & Quizzes.
For further information please contact Mrs Knight-Smith on 01732 361751.
North Tonbridge Flower
The next meeting will take place on Thursday 23 January - 7.45pm
Tonbridge Gassers &
The group will next meet on Saturday 25 January.
The next meeting will take place on Thursday 13 February when
speakers George and Joyce Buswell will discuss Vinzenz's Diary. For more
details please visit www.tonbridgehistory.org.uk.
Classes take place on Friday at 7pm. For more information please
contact Mary on 01892 538322.
Classes held each Monday from 8pm to 9pm and 6.30pm to 7.30pm for Zumba
Gold. For further information please contact Nicky on 01892 616123
or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Little Kickers Football
Classes take place on Sunday morning at 10am for children aged 18 months to 4.5
years. For further information please call 0208 4320982 or visit www.littlekickers.co.uk.
Today's business and market reports make a big deal out of John Lewis being the first department store to have been "given the google street view treatment." Sorry Mr. Lewis but Mr. Books beat you to it by about six months. Some of you may already realise that you can go on a virtual tour of the famous Tonbridge bookshop. Simply click on the image outside to enter into the murky world inside Mr. Books. Don't be alarmed when you see some mug with, well, a pixelated mug sitting at the desk. Actually it's not pixellated at all it's just how I look!...
Okay, now I have a confession to make to you the people of Tonbridge. I'm not particularly proud of this but here we go. You must understand that I did this partly as a result peer pressure and, I'd like to say, out of needing to conduct some literary research, being a bookseller and all. Closer to the truth though was that I was fascinated with the massive hype. Everyone has an opinion about this book and usually it's not a good one, even though it seems that most people commenting have never actually even picked the thing up let alone gazed upon its pages. Yes, I'm sorry, I'm almost ashamed to admit it but:
I'VE JUST READ FIFTY SHADES OF GREY!
The even worse confession is that I actually quite enjoyed it. In fact I've since skim-read the follow up, Fifty Shades Darker and have moved onto the final part of the trilogy, Fifty Shades Freed. I do want to find out what happens to Anastasia (Miss Steele) and Christian (Fifty Shades of.) I wouldn't say that the first book was un-put-downable, if indeed there is such a book in existence, but I did find it compelling reading and not for the obvious titillating bits involving S&M either. That said, being a man more used to M&S, I did find myself laughing out loud and sniggering like a teenager at some of these fruity bits at first. Later though they induce the feeling of: oh, here we go again! Once you've read one chapter about what goes on in the red room of pain (if you've read it this will make sense to you) how much more shocking can it get! It took a long time to come out, because I think that the author, E.L. James, was well aware that she was on to a winner what with the unashamed descriptions of previously taboo goings on in a mainstream novel, but there is a plot and it's quite a good one. Obviously it is by no means the most challenging book I've ever read but, you know, you just can't always read serious literature and Booker prize winners; sometimes you have to lose yourself in something a bit, well, trashy. Essentially though, in my opinion at least, so far in the story (remembering that I'm only two-thirds through the trilogy) it's a good old fashioned love story, where good must triumph over evil... just with added spicy bits. Can't wait to see the steamy film version!...
It now appears that endangered local businesses like bookshops, bakers and butchers will have to pay mostly full business rates but if the Church of Scientology, and possibly other cultish sects wish to open a place of worship in Tonbridge they might well be exempt. The C of Sc have just won a landmark case which recognises that religions don't have to be confined to ones which worship a supreme deity. Would you Adam and Eve it?!..
Some time ago I sent a letter off to the Rt Hon. Eric Pickles MP. He of the large frame and looking like he's definitely eaten at least 3/4 of the pies! But I think his rotundity (is that a word?) gives a false first impression of the man and for me he's one of the more impressive of the government ministers. In my letter I pointed out to him how Business Rates, over zealous parking wardens/high charges and preferential treatment of charity shops are crippling small businesses, such as Mr. Books, and acting as a disincentive to business start ups and expansions. I'm quite sure he's had similar exasperated business people from all over the country making the same sort of complaints. To his credit he has passed my letter to someone who has written a lengthy reply outlining the action the government are taking on these issues. Much of this was announced in the Chancellor's Autumn Statement but it's still worth highlighting some of it. It seems that the Department for Communities and Local Government has been clamping down on parking policies of local governments and are about to introduce legislation against aggressive parking policies which will, for example, allow "grace periods" when parking outside shops on double yellows, just like in the old days. An end may be in sight then for situations, and it does happen, like the old man stopping outside the chemists, in the lay by outside my shop only to return to the car a few minutes later with the dreaded Penalty Charge Notice stuck on his windscreen after the lurking parking warden has done his dirty work. Let's hope so. Other measures mentioned in the reply were the confirmation of the £1,000 discount for two years of all retailers in shops with a rateable value of less than £50,000. So that would be most small shops on Tonbridge High Street but not, say, Waitrose and other supermarkets and probably not, say, the Oriental Buffet and Starbucks, who might fall just outside. The smallest of businesses with shop premises will have their rate relief doubled for a further period and this, effectively, means that they will pay no business rates. This was the case in my smaller older shop on Bank Street for example. Furthermore, businesses reoccupying a vacant premises will automatically receive rate relief of 50% for 18 months.This would apply to quite a few of the premises in the shopping arcades at the south end of the High Street and the boarded up unit at the end of Church Lane. Opportunities therefore are perhaps being created for such people with an entrepreneurial streak. The reply from Mr. Pickles department also confirmed that local authorities have wide ranging powers of discretion to grant business rates discounts "as they see fit." So, in theory at least, they ought to be able to offer increased relief to say butchers, bakers and, er hum, bookshops but not, say mobile phone shops. The only thing is that Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council seem to be interpreting these discretionary powers under the Localism Act 2011 (which I'm sure everyone has read!) in a completely different way to those for which they appear to have been intended. The only way I'm aware of businesses getting further business rate relief, over and above statutory ones, are by applying for a "Hardship Relief" which is, effectively, means tested and very involved. So what is happening to the money set aside for this extra rate relief intended as a stimulus to the High Street? Search me! Perhaps a spokesperson for the borough council would care to elaborate....
Well Small Business Saturday came and went with a bit of a fizzle. I honestly can't say that I noticed any uplift in trade whatsoever. Might take a few years to catch on. Perhaps it was more successful in other towns. Another great American idea which us Brits aren't quite ready for? They're also trying to make Black Friday and Cyber Monday British traditions along with Halloween which has already caught in in a big way. Will they catch on here? Time will tell but my money's on Yes they will. The likes of Walmart, who are behind such retail schemes, have very deep pockets indeed....
I'm sure that you all knew this already but just in case you didn't. TOMORROW IS SMALL BUSINESS SATURDAY. What does this mean? Well you can of course read more about it in a Guardian article here. But basically it is what it says. It encourages the public to go into their local town centres and buy from small retailers and other businesses. Naturally, they did it in America first where it has been successful for a couple of years already. Apparently that opposition shadow minister fella, Chuka Umunna, who's out to make a name for himself, was astute enough to bring it over the pond. TonbridgeBlog has always of course been a great supporter of all things local so is right behind this one. I just hope every independent shop (including mine of course) sees a huge surge in business tomorrow. I keep saying this I know, but it is perfectly possible to do ALL your Christmas shopping right here in your home town. Save petrol, save time and save your local community shops while you're at it....
As I read it George Osborne yesterday gave the High Street a shot in the arm. If I am getting this right, and I think I am, he gifted me £1,000 a year for two years as a discount on my business rates. Effectively that's straight in my back pocket and therefore very welcome. Don't underestimate the impact of this measure for small retailers; in my case that's over a third reduction in rates. I'd love to see them removed all together for a period of time, that would be a massive boost to high streets everywhere, but I'll take this for now. The Chancellor went further and said in his Autumn Statement that retailers taking up vacant shop units would have business rates halved and that there is to be a review of the whole business rates structure. And not before time; it may be too late for some enterprises who will have found life too hard these last few years and will have given up the ghost but for new kids on the block these are encouraging signs. There's probably never been a better time to start a business if you have an idea or have found a gap in the market. Commercial rents are pretty low and business rates are becoming lower. As far as shops are concerned TonbridgeBlog predicts opportunities in the High Street for a men's fashion shop, a gadget style shop, a traditional sweet shop, artisan baker, camera shop and an electrical retailer....
Bishop James Langstaff, The Bishop of Rochester, paid Slade Primary School a rare visit earlier this week. TonbridgeBlog is reliably informed that he took the assembly, told the children about Advent and enjoyed a sneak preview of the Nativity play.....
Bishop James (back row) standing with the children and staff at Slade last Monday. Who's the lad with the cool shades?!