Monday, 19 September 2011

Nottingham Central Fire Station - Tour Review

September 8-11 this year was "Heritage Open Days Weekend". This is an annual event which, according to the website,
"celebrates England’s fantastic architecture and culture by offering free access to properties that are usually closed to the public or normally charge for admission. Every year on four days in September, buildings of every age, style and function throw open their doors, ranging from castles to factories, town halls to tithe barns, parish churches to Buddhist temples. It is a once-a-year chance to discover hidden architectural treasures and enjoy a wide range of tours, events and activities which bring to life local history and culture."

Having only heard about the event a few days beforehand, BFTF had a quick look through the listings and found that there were oodles of events around Nottingham. Oooh, which one to go to, decisions, decisions. But when BFTF saw that tours of the Central Fire Station were being held on the Saturday, it was clear that search was over. . .

Saturday soon came around and BFTF plus kids found themselves at the entrance to the station, along with about 15 other members of the public. The tour was conducted by David Needham, a retired Fireman and was fascinating. So fascinating that it is probably best to break it down into parts.

The Building
The Fire Station was built in 1940, but you would not think it to look at the style of the interior, which is full of art deco touches from the 1920's. It felt a little bit like being in the skyscraper from King Kong, or as Dave Needham commented, being in a Hercule Poirot movie.

Two stone lions (again very much in art deco style) adorn the stair handrails on the first floor. One asleep and one awake they represent the two watches (shifts) of the station.

Gordon Bennet, that was a tough shift, time to turn in for the night

Grrrrr, just 5 more minutes sleep please

The bays where the Fire Engines live are full of little reminders from years gone by such as the floor covers that covered electrical leads previously used to keep the engines warm and ready to go, or the small named hooks on the doors for fire crew leaders long since departed. The brickwork surrounding this area has had numerous lumps knocked out of it, described by Dave as "the signatures of our less skilled drivers"

" the signatures of our less skilled drivers"

The Station has a number of levels below ground and one of these houses the social club. The walls here are decorated with all manner of fire fighting memorabilia, including pennants from fire crews around the world. On one side of the room is a large wooden wheel, perhaps 1.5m in diameter, with wooden spokes radiating from the central axle. It looks for all the world like something that belongs in the 19th century, along with Queen Victoria and flintlock rifles.

Last used in the 1890s, 1930s or 1980s?

But no, it turns that this is one of two wheels that were attached to ladders used on "pump escape" vehicles (like this) up to as late as 1987.

The station also has an air raid shelter that was used during WWII by non-essential station staff and by local residents. Dave described how these shelters could only protect the people inside to a certain degree and that a large calibre bomb would typically penetrate the ground to the depth of the shelter and then detonate, with predictably devastating consequences. This actually happened to another shelter in the city and Dave described how the casualty list made very sad reading, with grandparents, mothers and children of a single family all being killed in that single explosion.

Working Conditions
By 1939, the firemen had managed to win some significant concessions from the station management. They now had a full 1/2 day off work a week !
But, no sooner was this achieved than the UK was at war, and conditions went back to the 128hr weeks that had been the norm before.

Working conditions were very different back then. Firemen tended to live in a terrace of houses owned by the Fire Brigade and located close to the Station. Living in this accomodation had it's down sides. For example, couples needed a pass from the Station Commander if they wanted to stay out late. But that intrusion into their personal lives pales into insignificance when one hears that if a fireman wanted to marry, both he and his prospective bride were interviewed to ensure that she was "suitable". Crikey.

Perhaps inevitably, Dave described how things were much harder in his day than is the case for firefighters today. For one thing, he was expected to get changed on the way to the fire, which meant that the engine could be out of the station within 30seconds. This occasionally led to Firemen injuring themselves as they were knocked about the drive to the fire. To prevent this happening, firefighters now don their protective gear before they set off, which means that it now takes a leisurely 90seconds for the engine to leave the station.

Technology has also made a big difference, in Dave's day hoses would rot if left in a wet condition, so needed to be dried after use. This was done by laboriously hauling them up the training tower so that the water could drain out. Modern hoses are rot-proof so this is no longer required, and in any case the tower now has powered hose hoists (what luxury! when I were a lad. . . .)

World War II
Dave was particularly knowledgeable about the work of the station during WWII and, of the many stories he recounted, two have stuck in the mind of BFTF.

The first relates to a fireman who was on night look-out duty, scanning the city for signs of fires. Located on the roof of the station, he had no wall or shelter to protect him. As he was looking over the city an air raid siren began to sound and then, a little while later, he began to hear the sound of metallic objects landing on the roof around him in the pitch darkness. Alarmingly, these were not spent shell casings or similar ariel detritus but rather were 1kg incendiary bombs landing around him. Forbidden from leaving his post, he took a compromise approach of staying where he was, but lying down to minimise the chance of being taken apart by shapnel from the exploding bombs !

The second story relates to the bombing of Coventry, Dave describes how the air defense network knew that there was going to be a big air-raid somewhere in the south of the country, but not exactly where. So fire engines across the north of England were gradually being moved southwards so that they would be closer to the target, wherever that was.

Soon enough, of course, it became clear that the Coventry was the target, and a look-out described how, even from Nottingham, he could see the glow on the horizon from the fires. He described the sight as "like peas boiling in a pan", which is a pretty evocative turn of phrase. Dave explained that the "boiling" was due to the shock and blast waves from the bombs as they landed.

Well, BFTF certainly found the tour to be very interesting, and hopes that you, dear reader have managed to find a few nuggets of useful information in this summary.

Thanks are due, of course to Dave Needham for taking the time to be involved in the Heritage Weekend.

And thanks are also due, very unexpectedly to Number One and Number 2 sons. When BFTF got home, these two were asked to jot down bullet points of all the things they could remember from the tour. To BFTF's utter surprise the resulting lists were very comprehensive and have been used as pointers and reminders whilst writing this post. Well Done!

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Recognition of the Palestinian State at the UN

The Palestinian Leadership will be seeking recognition of Palestinian statehood at the UN in just a few days (sometime around the 20th September 2011).UK citizens can support this bid by telling their elected MP's and government that they expect the UK government to support the recognition of Palestinian Statehood at the UN.

There are lots of resources regarding this issue, many of which can be found at the foot of this post.

It does not take a lot of words to make a point. BFTF simply sent the message that it "expects the government to support recognition of the Palestinian State at the UN". BFTF has been working with a number of mosques in Nottingham to make a difference by getting their congregations to sign petitions and submitting them to their local MP's. BFTF has helped the masjids by scanning the petitions for them and providing them with draft email text so that almost all they need to do it hit the "forward" button to send the messages to their MPs. Of course, it may be that other masjids have, unbeknown to BFTF, also been active on this issue.

The results of all this are shown below, broken down by institution.

UPDATE 15 SEP 2011 : Received a response from the "Near East Group" at the Foreign Office. It said that, during President Obama's visit to the UK in May, David Cameron:
"agreed with the President that a Palestinian state was a legitimate goal, but the best way of achieving this was through a comprehensive agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. . . our focus remains on continuing to push hard for a return to negotiations on the basis agreed by the Prime Minister and President Obama. That is borders based on 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps; security for Israel; and the right for Palestinians to govern themselves in a sovereign and contiguous state. We are working hard with our international partners for a return to negotiations on this basis.. . We have reserved our position on the question of recognition, while we continue to urge all parties back to talks. If needed, we will take a decision nearer to the time, in consultation with EU and other partners. "
UPDATE 15 NOV 2011 : Received a response from local (Labour) MP that contained a copy of a letter that the Shadow Foreign Secretary had written to William Hague. The letter commented that :
"We (Labour) have always been clear that we fully support two states living side by side in peace and recognised by all of their neighbours. We want to see an immediate return to meaningful negotiations between the parties. . . It has never been the case that recognition [at the UN] can only follow the conclusions of the negotiations. . .The case made by the Palestinians for recognition as a state is strong. This week, at the UN, the Biritsh Government should be willing to support the recognition of Palestinian statehood. . ."
Also received a response from Alistair Burt, a Minister at the Foreign Office. This letter stated that the governments position was that:
"the best way for a Palestinian State to come about was following a comprehensive agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. . . No vote is imminent in the Security Council, while the membership committee considers its recommendations. So far, we have not been presented with a detailed proposal on which to take a position. Whether the committee returns the issue to the Security Council, or whether President Abbas decides to turn to the General Assembly, the UK will use its vote in a way which increases the likelihood of a return to meaningful negotiations."

MASJID B (Big Masjid)
UPDATE 24 OCT 2011 : This masjid sent emails (and petitions) to two local MP's and to the MCB a few weeks ago. BFTF sent an email asking if the congregation had been informed of the responses that the masjid had(or had not) received.
UPDATE 15 NOV 2011 : The masjid recently received a reply from Nottingham South MP Lilian Greenwood saying that Lilian had made representations to the Foreign Secretary on the Masjids behalf and would respond as soon as she had received a response. She also appended a letter that the Shadow Foreign Secretary had written to William Hague (as described in the BFTF section).
UPDATE 17 DEC 2011 : A couple of weeks ago, BFTF talked to the Imam at the Masjid who (so far as BFTF can recall) agreed to feedback to the community (via a Friday Khutbah(sermon) or similarly well attended prayer what had been done in their name
UPDATE 02 JAN 2012 : BFTF sent an email to the Imam of the Masjid asking if the congregation had been informed on what had been done in their name yet
UPDATE 15 FEB 2012 : BFTF called the Imam to ask if they could feedback to the congregation what had been done in their name. Imam said he would do it this Friday.
UPDATE 20 FEB 2012 : The Imam did make a short announcement at the end of Friday Prayers. This final, critical action feeds back to the congregation what was done in their name. From BFTF's perspective, the masjid has, at last, done all that was requested of it.

MASJID S (Small Masjid)
UPDATE 24 OCT 2011 :This masjid had not (as of about a week ago) sent off any emails, so BFTF sent them a reminder.
UPDATE 11 DEC 2011 : Talked to the Imam of the Masjid who said that they had not been able to send the emails to the MPs yet. To nudge them along, BFTF sent another email reminder.
UPDATE 02 JAN 2012 : Last week, talked to the Imam from this Masjid about the petition signed by the congregation at that masjid. This Masjid has not yet sent off any communication to local MP's. BFTF pointed out to the Imam that the congregation signed the petition in good faith and are expecting that it has been sent off, if the Masjid doesn't want to do that then they need to tell the congregation so that they are not working under a misapprehension. The Imam said that they should have decided on a way forward by the end of the Christmas Holidays.
UPDATE 20 FEB 2012 : Had a chat with the Imam over the weekend and was told, somewhat to BFTF's surprise that they have talked about the issue with the office of the local (Labour) MP and also with a representative of the local Conservative Party. The Imam said that he would be very happy to feedback this information to the congregation. BFTF will touch base in a few weeks to see if this last part of the circle has been closed out.

MASJID C (Masjid towards Centre of Notts)
UPDATE 15 FEB 2012 : A letter had been left at this masjid by a friend back in December but BFTF did not have any direct contact number, and the Imam did not answer emails. Today talked to someone at the masjid who was very supportive and seemed keen on pursuing this issue.
UPDATE 12 MAR 2012 : Chased up and was told that this would be sorted by Friday
UPDATE 25 MAR 2012 : Chased up and was told that the letter had not been sent yet and that they would let me know as soon as it had been.
UPDATE 26 JUN 2012 : Chased up to see if letter had been sent.
UPDATE 10 SEP 2012 : Chased up again and was told that the person would chase this.
UPDATE 27 NOV 2012 : Received an email saying that this masjid had contacted their local MP and has received a response.

You can find out who your MP is, and how to get to their website, by visiting or the, much mor informative site

And you can make your feelings felt at the foreign office by using the "ministerial feedback form"

Further information can be found at the following links :
Q&A: Palestinian statehood bid at the UN (BBC)
US tries to stall Palestinian statehood bid: report (Reuters)
Palestinian Statehood bid ‘papers ready’ (Al Jazeera English)
Tony Blair to meet Palestinian and Israeli leaders in peace push (The Guardian)
U.S. Is Appealing to Palestinians to Stall U.N. Vote (New York Times)
Israel's diplomatic drive to block Palestinian UN bid (The Independent)

The campaigning organisation AVAAZ are supporting this issue, and have sent out an email with a bunch of very relevant and useful links, which are shown below:
Abbas vows to continue UN statehood bid
Arab League will call for Palestinian State at the UN
Palestinians and Israelis march for Palestinian statehood.
Israel campaign against UN vote
Palestinian call for statehood.
Palestinian statehood and bypassing Israel.
UN says Palestinians able to govern own state
List of countries recognizing the state of Palestine

Although, not mentioned earlier, BFTF also asked a third Masjid (let's call them Masjid C) to participate in this activity. A friend gave Masjid C a suggested letter but BFTF does not know whether the Masjid did anything or not. The same friend has kindly agreed to chase them up and ask what happened.

Now, whilst negotiations are all well and good, the likelihood of them being successfully are dramatically lowered when negotiators the more powerful party take the approach that "Negotiations are good, results are bad", as a senior Israeli negotiator said to Jonathan Freedland in a 2008 article in the Guardian.

Lastly, it is heartening to see that some MP's do speak out in support of achieving a real peace (as opposed to pretending to move towards peace), check out this speech by former Labour MP Martin Linton (see here)

If you are interested in getting a masjid to participate in this action, it might be worth mentioning to the masjid why this is important:
a) Show the Muslim community that lobbying the government and other organisations is part of being a British Muslim - and demonstrating this by example.
b) Showing the Muslim community HOW to lobby, and thus nudging them towards undertaking their own lobbying
c) Showing the Muslim community how their elected MP's do (or do not respond) to issues that are of importance to the Muslim community. They can then ask the relevant MP's some appropriately difficult questions come election time.
d) Perhaps most importantly, it will give the young adults in the community a practical direction to direct their energies. It is, in my opinion, really dangerous to tell our youth that Palestine is a very important issue and then NOT GIVE THEM ANY PRACTICAL WAY OF MAKING A DIFFERENCE.

UPDATE 29 NOV 2012: Vote held today, with a resounding yes to Palestinian Statehoood. This is covered more fully here.