Jack The Lad #5: The device that makes saving lives shockingly easy

One of the defibrillators now installed in our town as a result of the Survival Can Be Shocking campaign. Start a cause, make a difference; simple as that really.

One of the defibrillators now installed in our town as a result of the Survival Can Be Shocking campaign. Start a cause, make a difference; simple as that really.

I was lucky enough to attend a training session on how to use defibrillators a while ago, and what really stood out to me was how easy it was to use them. Ever since he was bought back from the brink after suffering a cardiac arrest, Steve Morris has tirelessly campaigned for more awareness of the devices, with two now installed in the town centre as a direct result. Shouting about it myself in my column for the East Grinstead Courier was really the least I could do!

Go on, have a gander.

http://www.eastgrinsteadcourier.co.uk/Device-makes-saving-lives-shockingly-easy/story-28107013-detail/story.html

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Jack The Lad #3: Savouring the sight of St Swithuns

Always a proud moment

Always a proud moment

My latest column for my local paper, the East Grinstead Courier, looks at the importance of moving a town forward while maintaining its identity- in particular the architecture that defines it.

Can you imagine the news of a familiar locale being torn down to make way for yet more property no longer provoking a reaction? Yet sadly, as such announcements become the daily norm, it is hardly surprising that the reaction has dried up and stagnated.

The Wallis Centre? The Parish Halls? The Rose and Crown? Going, going, and gone before you know it. Outrage becomes grumbling, before grumbling becomes roll of the eyes. Such developments are now taken for granted as part of modern life in East Grinstead.

But one recent proposal particularly caught my attention because of how it concerns our beloved St Swithuns. The proposal would see a property in Cantelupe Road extended vertically, with five new apartments on top. The nagging issue?  The town council is worried it would obscure views of the church.

There’s no denying that as the population expands, so must East Grinstead, and the town’s future will always be an important issue, but as soon as money is on the table, new plans take priority and charge ahead, leaving behind the cherished architecture that defines the town. But can you imagine having the view to such a prominent piece of the town’s fabric blocked by a wannabe skyscraper?

I’m lucky that I can always catch a glimpse of the almighty spire of St Swithun’s from my bedroom; though the church spires are merely a speck in the distance, it is still a beautiful sight to behold. Whether you’re part of the congregation or not, there is no denying that it remains a prominent part of the town’s character.

The town’s development needs to be in a way that does not fragment the overall identity of East Grinstead; that is what keeps people in the area after all. You can start off with the derelict houses dotted about the town’s estates; I passed a ghastly site on Grosvenor Road in Gardenwood the other day that could easily be turned into two apartments. Or what about the old wool shop on Green Hedges Avenue, sold last year but seemingly forgotten?

The big question is, if Cantelupe Road gets the thumbs up, what’s to say more applications won’t be pushed through? Before we know it, St Swithuns could be cowering in the shadows of stocky, monotonous monoliths, heralding a new age where you hear church bells and have no idea where they are coming from.

Such a sight is common in the capital or any city for that matter; but we are not a city. We’re East Grinstead, a small town that basks in the rays of an impressive history. If you keep hacking away at it, it will all seep out, and you’ll be left with just another small town.

Thankfully, the council rejected the proposal, but now the idea is out in the open, what’s to say that I won’t resurface? We moan enough about all manner things in our town as it is; therefore, we should do all we can to nurture the few strands of it we still admire and cherish.

Jack The Lad #2: You’ve gotta fight for your mike

If you were given a moment in the spotlight, how would you use it?

I'm certainly a "vocal hero" of my town at least!

I’m certainly a “vocal hero” of my town at least!

Cities offer an abundance of opportunities for emerging musicians and artists, but for youngsters in the small towns and villages dotted across the country, it’s a completely different picture. As I argue in my second column for my local newspaper the East Grinstead Courier, whenever the circumstances are in your favour, you have to use it and hope with all your might.

The lights flash on and you’re ready to go. Centre of the stage with a guitar in your hand, you step up to the microphone and find yourself staring out across a sea of bemused faces, all ready to be entertained. Forget who’s played before, forget any previous context; the atmosphere, if not the night itself, now rests on you. Does that fill you with horror? Dread? Or perhaps excitement?

If it’s the latter, then perhaps it’s time to start doing some vocal exercises; now has never been a better time to be a musician in East Grinstead. My teenage years in the mid-noughties were punctuated randomly by the occasional showcase of local bands… usually whenever someone could convince the Wallis Centre or the Parish Hall to give them a shot.

Real opportunities for adolescents to demonstrate their musical talents were a rare treat. Who knows how many hidden gems slipped under the radar? Sure, it’s to be expected with small towns and villages, but the sad result is an abundance of proficient youngsters who are unable to utilize their skills and learn the craft of the live setting. After all, there’s only so much magic that can be wrung out of garage rehearsals and bedroom demos.

But now, things are certainly on the up. The Crow’s Nest, already reputable for putting on a diverse assortment of live acts, hosts a weekly Open Jam Night on Tuesdays. You can bring a group, perform solo or even join the resident band; if you’ve got the enthusiasm, there’s nothing to stop you. Or how about The Sussex Arms? Often overlooked, the pub is becoming a prominent location for emerging acts to break in their boots.

And then, there’s Ashstock. Last September saw the inaugural edition of the festival, where over a thousand revelers descended on John Pears field in Ashurst Wood, to enjoy a packed schedule of local acts and twenty kinds of ale from the surrounding area, including a batch brewed especially for the event. Suddenly, a quiet corner of Ashurst Wood was transformed into the most enjoyable event in Sussex; sometimes, the simplest of ingredients work wonders.

But asides from bringing the local community together (and a bit more besides), Ashstock’s aims was to give local youngsters a much needed platform, to give them their own moment in the spotlight. How they use it is up to them; the point is that there was one there in the first place, actively encouraging youngsters to have a go. Now back for a second outing, Ashstock is looking to fill its roster as it did before, and it’s not a prospect to be sniffed at.

Everyone knows how hard it is to catch a break in the music industry, and none more so than the wannabe musicians themselves. But if you can captivate a group of passing strangers, then surely you can take on any crowd that comes your way? And you never know who is going to stumble across your set; maybe someone with just the right connections to help you on to the next step.

It’s a shame there aren’t more of these events often. The buzz Ashstock generated shows that there’s certainly the demand for it. You can never guarantee how long these events will be providing an open door for, or whether that sea of bemused faces will be there in the first place. So, whenever an opportunity like this comes along, you have to make the most of it.

Preparing for London to Brighton #1: Beyond the Worth Way

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How do you react to one of your best friends asking you to take part in the London to Brighton ride? Do you frown with apprehension or cheer with full blown excitement? For me, it was a bit of both when my good friend James asked me last week. I love cycling- more for the rush as you fly along country lanes and roads than the abundance of lycra- but until recently I was very much a casual cycler, more concerned with enjoying the views than the amount of distance covered and maintaining speed.

Now, the London to Brighton bike ride is a fantastic cause, but it is certainly not a “casual cycle;” only the most arrogant and ignorant of beings would stroll up to the starting line without any prior preparation. James is much more of a serious cyclist than me (his collection of lycra proves this), but how could I let him down?  More than anything, signing up would give me the perfect excuse for working on my riding technique and overall fitness, so I agreed.

Two of the redeeming features of East Grinstead (for bike lovers in any case) are the cycle routes that lead out to the west and east of the town. Both mostly follow an old railway line from Three Bridges to Tunbridge Wells, which has now been revitalised as a peaceful wildlife corridor. The previous existence of the railway line means the trail is mostly flat with little change in gradient, making it perfect for hikers, horse riders and cyclists. The route ends at Three Bridges, but then continues north as part of route 21 on the National Cycle Network.

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Waking up on Wednesday morning to glorious weather, I decided today was the day to go beyond the usual route and see what I found. The journey west was remarkably smooth, with numerous families and dog walkers out enjoying the weather. Cyclists always make for interesting encounters; they smile in acknowledgement of your shared passion when they pass, but they’re also quite solitary for the most part. Even in groups, they often tail each other with barely a word spoken, focusing more on technique and speed.

I was quite happy in my own world as well, taking in the lush scenery and enjoying a few podcasts on my iPod. Before I knew it, I was at Three Bridges and the Worth Way was finished- now it was time to venture into the unknown, keeping an eye out for directions while impatient drivers looked for the right moment to overtake.

Once I began heading into Crawley’s suburbs, the journey took a very different tone. Not that it was unpleasant, but the dense greenery of the Worth Way vanished altogether. Bleak, monotonous buildings that go for purpose above character dwarfed every corner, and as I got closer to Gatwick Airport I encountered vast technology parks, where the only inviting attribute was the smell of bacon frying from the occasional burger van

Before my ride I had been enamoured with the idea of finding somewhere to sit and watch the planes, like a cyclist version of Elton John (I could certainly give him a run for his money with the lycra). But as the landscape became more rigid, I decided to focus on moving along as quickly as possible; at least the scenery encouraged me to up my speed! The only difficulty I had was keeping track of where I was going, and I found myself lost on two occasions; I can’t imagine what the suave, desk bound office dwellers thought of me circling one of the technology parks in my luminous cycling jacket, looking like a rave on wheels.

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Suddenly I emerged from Gatwick’s south terminal into Riverside Garden Park, a welcome flash of nature after the urban onslaught. Unsurprisingly, nothing greeted me as I dismounted and looked over the lake; there was only a robin on one of the benches, and even he buggered off as I moved closer. I did spy a rabbit hidden in the undergrowth, and I felt a tinge of sadness as he navigated the brambles and found his way blocked by Styrofoam boxes and crisp packets. The problem with nature is that is always so easy to ruin it.

After resting a while, my mind turned to lunch and I decided to head back. That’s always the hardest part of the journey, when you have to start making your way home. I always find that’s the hardest part of the journey, when you have a long way ahead of you with rarely anything new to see and you’re well on your way to being knackered. Even so, as I left the technology parks behind me and got back onto the Worth Way, I was reminded of how lucky I am to have such an amazing cycling route on my doorstep, secluded from traffic and idyllic for the most part.

The ride was meant to improve my fitness and set me up for an afternoon of work. Instead, I gorged on treats and felt knackered for the rest of the day, as you would expect from having ridden twenty-six miles. Not exactly peak performance but hey, we’ve all got to start somewhere. London to Brighton is still eleven weeks away…