Today would have been Uncle Albert’s 100th birthday

My good friend Charles (Uncle Albert) Walker at Birkenhead Tramway Museum next to a restored Wallasey tram that he rode on as a boy.

If my dear Uncle Albert had made it he would have been 100 today; frankly many of us who knew him well very much expected him to make the milestone but sadly it did not come to pass and my obituary from 2017 is linked below:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2017/01/11/goodbye-uncle-albert/

I don’t really commemorate such anniversaries but I make an exception in Uncle Albert’s case because he was exceptional. A man whom I did not get to know until he was 74 became a very close friend indeed and I loved being in his company. He was funny, cheeky, well informed, and had led a fascinating life which he loved to tell folks about. All you had to do was to sit down and listen to him and take in his wartime and wider experiences and you learned so much. His mind seemed to be one of a young man which was open to learning more and he was able to make friends with anyone he came across. I never met anyone who did not like Charles Walker – Uncle Albert was his nickname which many of his friends used.

I still miss him terribly as I could run things past him, seek his advice, and as I said before learn from his wide range of experiences.

Andrew Blackburn and I would tease him unmercifully about him being the living embodiment of the part played by Buster Merryfield in Only Fools and Horses and he loved it. Indeed, he even changed his name badge at a conference we attended with him to ‘Uncle Albert’!

Happy Birthday Uncle Albert; I know you’re not looking down on me as I’m an atheist and don’t do heaven and earth. However, the other big tease we had with Charles was that if he went anywhere it would be downwards due to the terrible and very rude RAF songs he would occasionally launch into! The first time he did it was on a car journey with Andrew Beattie (who sadly passed on in 1999), Andrew Blackburn, and myself. To say we were taken aback is putting it mildly but the 4 of us became very firm friends from that day onward – we knew we’d come across a right one!

Note – Charles lived in Poverty Lane Maghull from 1960 until his death and was a Maghull Town Councillor for 15 years or more up to the age of 90. He was originally from the Wirral but had also lived in Bootle. His daughter Carole, son-in-law Phil, grandsons, David, Michael, and their families are today holding an online quiz in his memory as he loved to attend the quizzes that were once a weekly fixture of Maghull Town Hall.

So how do Parish Councils really behave?

I’ve been a parish councillor continuously since September 1985 on Maghull Town Council and in more recent times on Lydiate Parish Council so you won’t be surprised to hear that after the carryings on at Handforth Parish Council, so beloved of the internet and media in the past couple of weeks, I’ve been asked by folks whether I’ve ever witnessed or even been a part of such ‘entertainment’.

I’m happy to say that I’ve not. Yes I’ve seen the odd flare of temper and odd inappropriate/rude remark, the odd bit of disrespect but usually it’s been directed at parish councillors by frustrated members of the public lobbying for help/support over a matter of importance to them. Driven by frustration over whatever matter brought the member of the public to a parish council meeting and quite probably because the angered resident quickly found out that whatever was buzzing in their bonnet could not actually be fixed by the parish council, can tip someone over into impolite commentary.

I do recall one chap who for a period of time would come to Town Council meetings and his tone and rudeness was regularly over the top but everyone kept their cool and the responses from the Town Councillors were firm but polite. My view was that he came for arguments on various matters and was deliberately provocative but as I say the councillors did not rise to the bait. That’s not to say many of us weren’t tempted!

In my 16 years as a Sefton Borough councillor I had at one time 5 parish councils within my Borough ward and they were all very different in how they went about things as parish councils usually are. District, Borough and County councils are pretty much of a muchness no matter who or what party is running them as 95% of what they do is the same as any similar council. However, parish councils can be very different animals despite existing under the same basic law and rule book.

I spotted Jim Hancock’s remarks on this very subject yesterday (on his Hancock’s Half Page Blog site) where he said:-

‘LYMM NOT HANDFORTH.

I see the councillors in the Handforth parish were making fools of themselves again this week. I spent a recent evening watching the proceedings of Lymm Parish Council. The councillors dealt efficiently with issues from flooding to litter with a smile on their face.

I suspect that’s the case with most town and parish councils. After we’ve had our fun over Handforth, we should acknowledge the selfless work at this level of our democracy.’

I like parish councils and their diversity. Yes some can become akin to private members clubs where they don’t hold elections every 4 years (this happens where there are insufficient nominations to trigger an election) but they are the bedrock of our democracy as they are the closest form of governance to the electors. Yes I would change them if I were in government by giving them more powers and responsibilities over very local matters such as street cleansing, the running of parks and gardens and the like.

I bet for every bad parish council you could come across there’d be 20 or more which are a credit to their village, neighbourhood, community……..

Peter Taylor RIP

Peter Taylor worked for Maghull Town Council* for many years firstly as a maintenance engineer and then as head of its parks and gardens maintenance arm.

He was one of those people full of innovative engineering ideas that could come up with solutions to many problems but he was modest of nature and did not seek praise or recognition; a true behind the scenes man. However, give him some steel or wood and the appropriate tools and he could make virtually anything and he’d most likely enjoy every minute of the work too.

Here are a couple of postings of mine from quite a while back where Peter’s team at the Town Council got a positive mention:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2012/12/31/maghulls-meadows-leisure-centre-car-park/

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2014/12/28/maghull-grafiti-covered-boundary-sign-cleaned-up/

And here’s some photos of Peter’s handiwork:-

Entrance to Dodds Park Maghull

Entrance to Mersey Avenue Park Maghull

Entrance to Balls Wood Park Maghull

Indeed, anywhere across Maghull’s 13 parks, gardens and play areas where you see blue metal fencing there’s a good chance that Peter Taylor made it. Sadly some of the work he did is very much in need of a rub down and a coat of paint or the rust will see the fencing off. Let’s hope that this is tackled soon.

I only found out about Peter’s passing yesterday from my old friend Roy Connell who had bumped into one of Peter’s neighbours who lived in Scarisbrick a couple of doors away from him. It seems Peter had died earlier this year, aged 64, from heart problems. Coincidentally, Roy was himself a former Maghull Town Councillor and as Chair of the Council’s then Personnel Committee back in the day he was a part of the panel which interviewed and appointed Peter. Roy, a lifelong trade unionist like myself, has often commented along the lines of it was probably the best appointment to a job he ever made. He shares this view of Peter with fellow former councillor Andrew Blackburn.

I liked Peter and recall how his eyes would light up when a technical problem was presented to him; he was a really nice helpful chap. He may not have ever lived in Maghull but the work he did across all of its parks and gardens, together with his team of course, is a tribute to him.

RIP Peter Taylor

My thanks to Les French for supplying the photo of Peter

* Peter ceased to work for the Town Council around 5 years ago

Tony McCalmont-Woods RIP

Tony was a Conservative councillor in the Maghull area of Sefton Borough in the 1980’s and 1990’s. If memory serves he represented Park Ward for a number of years until the late 1980’s when a political power shift took place in the Maghull & Lydiate area and the Lib Dems came to the fore.

Tony was also a member of Maghull Town Council which is where I came to know him following my election to that Council in a by-election in 1985. Again, if memory serves, I think he continued to be a member of the Town Council until the late 1990’s.

My memories of him are of a chap who always wore a business suit and tie as was quite usual for gentlemen of his and my Dad’s generation. Indeed, my Dad (George Robertson) and Tony knew each other well as both were members of the former Conservative Club in Maghull – It became Kensington House Sports & Leisure Club.

In Town Council meetings Tony was always very business-like in his approach to matters and I, as a fresh faced young Liberal, looked upon him as a big beast in local politics. I was once told that Tony was expected to rise through the Conservative ranks on Sefton Council but this did not happen because of the change of political wind in Maghull & Lydiate towards the SDP/Liberal Alliance and then the Lib Dems.

I recall a conversation with him at some civic event when I asked him about his serious approach to pretty much all Council business and he laughed out loud taking me by surprise as a different side to his stern character surfaced. It wasn’t long after this that some new play equipment was being ordered by the Council and Tony was very keen that it should be galvanised to make it longer lasting. It then became a bit of regular political banter as some wag would add on to something Tony had said along the lines of ‘and get it galvanised’.

Tony also had his very own political opponent in the guise of Cllr. Audrey Beattie as every now and then they would have a reasonably ‘good natured’ set to over some matter or other much to the amusement of other members of the Town Council.

During my very last conversation with well known local journalist Jim Sharpe, a few weeks before he died a couple of months ago, he asked me whether I’d heard anything of Tony in recent times as he understood him to be quite unwell.

I did not serve on Sefton Council with Tony as he had left that Council before I was elected to it in 1999 I might add.

The last time I saw Tony was a few years back in Morrisons Maghull shop. We had a chat about the old days and he commented on how the political rug had been pulled from under his party’s feet by the Lib Dems and that Labour had now done the same to the Libs in Maghull. How true that comment was.

I was not close to Tony but I hope my recollections and memories of him, if only at the margins, illustrate the man, the politician and the local councillor.

Jim Sharpe – The man in the red felt hat – RIP old friend

I attended Jim’s funeral today at Thornton Crematorium to help celebrate the life of a well known and much liked local journalist, dog lover, bus enthusiast and owner of his pride and joy the wooden boat Manxman. There was a lovey eulogy by his friend Nigel Hughes and a great railway poem reading by Danielle Thompson a fellow Champion reporter. What’s more the Celebrant was also a friend of Jim, my fellow Lydiate Parish Councillor Neil Spencer. And to cap it all the Mayor of Sefton Cllr. June Burns attended too. Although only 10 of us were at the ceremony, due to the present health crisis and the restrictions flowing from it, I think we gave Jim a send off which would have approved of.

This is the cover of the order of service, one of the best of its kind I have ever seen – by Nigel Hughes.

This was my contribution to the celebration:-

Hello Jim, Tony here, you know that bit of a leftie whom you debated politics, railways and life in general with as our frustrations required of us both.

I got to know you around 1990 I guess, so we must have spent 30 years or so putting the world to rights or is that lefts?

You know we got along as we were able to laugh at ourselves; nothing worse than taking yourself too seriously. I had my trains which you had more than a passing interest in and you had your buses which I tried to catch now and again.

I recall you sitting through Maghull Town Council meetings with a face which gave away your thoughts at times, yet you became not just a journalist sat on the shoulders of local decision makers but a friend too. Unafraid to speak your mind, to add an opinion, but also someone who just wanted councillors to do right by his home town. That’s why the Town Council presented you with a Maghull tie which you wore for years as a proud Maghullian of birth.

Now Jim about that felt hat! Yes I’ve found out about it via Jeanette Smith who says ‘I worked with Jim on the Crosby Herald in the late 60s early 70s. I remember him always turning up for work in a red felt hat, quite outrageous for a serious, sensible journalist. But he got away with it such was his quirky character. RIP Jim’

I appreciated your advice Jim as my political career developed and when it became apparent that I may become Leader of Sefton Council you were encouraging and supportive despite our political differences. During those 7 years we continued to chat on a weekly basis just as we had done during my time as a parish councillor. You were the journalist who knew me inside out.

In recent times we have spoken less yet every few weeks we’d still strike up a phone conversation of some length where we’d slip back into our old ways.

I’ll miss you proud Captain Jim of the Norfolk Broads boat Manxman, one unique man and his 4 legged friends. We shall not see the like of Jim again…………

If you’d like to read more about Jim my obituary article on Jim’s passing is available via this link:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2020/05/01/jim-sharpe-rip/

Maghull – Project to enhance Bobby’s Wood

Maghull folk will probably know the name Frank Sharp because of his efforts to both fund raise and improve the formerly neglected site along Stafford Moreton Way adjacent to the new Home Bargains Store in the Town.

Well Frank is now turning his attention to Bobby’s Wood (owned by Sefton Borough Council but maintained by Maghull Town Council) in the Woodend part of Maghull – the grassed and tree plot at the junction of Liverpool Road South and Northway. Here’s Frank to tell you all about it:-

‘We are undertaking an ambitious environmental crowdfunding project at Woodend (Bobby’s Wood), that we have entitled – ‘Woodend Community Woodland Project’. In essence we are trying to raise money for an (1) accessible pathway to connect current and future community driven projects and (2) a knee-high ‘birds mouth’ fence to protect the free donation of 1150 wildlife friendly hedge whips to surround the 230m site. The hedge will provide: safety for children and pets, habitat for wildlife, a beautiful natural aesthetic. There also seems to be a possibility that the hedge donors – the Tree Council will work with the environmental department at Sefton Council to undertake an evidence-based piece of research to demonstrate the effectiveness of hedges in reducing vehicle pollution (the small evidence-base currently suggest hedges can reduce this pollution by 60%). In addition, we are hoping to plant hundreds of free tree whips from Northern Forest to future proof the current trees.

There are many other costed aspirations but realistically they will be for a 2021 campaign. We have launched the campaign with a fun children’s rainbow art competition which completes on the 27.4.20 and I want to highlight the need for pledges on the crowdfunding website where there is a lovely introductory video. All the small pledges on the website make a massive difference, as it enables the large funders to decide who to allocated funds to.’

Here’s a link to the fund raising page:-

www.spacehive.com/woodend

Click on the photos/graphics above to enlarge them