Sunday, 10 November 2019

Life on the Weald - September 2019

Life on the Weald - September 2019

We made a brief visit on the 1st September and our first disappointment of the month was to find that all our late sown peas were gone. Not just picked but all the plants removed!  

They were in a raised bed near to the communal footpath/roadway, close to the bed where all our broad beans had been stolen earlier this year. The pea plants were all gone but they left the weeds!

The following day we were off to Spain and the journey didn't start well. We usually pop in to Pret for either a pre-flight snack or to take one on the plane, but it was the peas all over again!

After a brief holiday, we returned home mid-September to an abundance of produce at the allotment and in the garden.

The tomatoes were still giving

Golden cherry tomatoes 13 September

the chillies were ripening

and the apple tree was laden with fruit

Apples 13 September

We even had an aubergine on the plant in a pot in the garden.

Hove grown aubergine 13 September

Our pumpkins were a good size and ripening and there were yet more tromboncinos and patty pan squashes

Pumpkins 13 September
Tromboncinos 13 September


And yes, more giant courgettes!  


And a proliferation of French beans

French beans 13 September
French beans amongst the harvest

Crown Prince and patty pan squash 13 September

Patty pan squashes
We picked the last of the French beans.  They were past their best but still very good

The last of the French beans
Very little work had been done on the plot this month apart from harvesting and towards the end of the month everything was put on hold for the Labour Party Conference which had come to Brighton (possibly for the last time if they proceed with plans to demolish the Brighton Centre and build a new one at the Marina!  Who in their right minds would want to go to a sterile conference centre outside of town, miles from a railway station, away from the hotels and all the social life that is the essence of Brighton? Hopefully someone will see sense.

After the conference, we picked the Borlotti beans and took them home to dry

....and placed the squashes in a cool place

September harvest

But then it was time to go up to Chesterfield for a surprise wedding anniversary party for my brother-in-law, Ray and his wife, Yvonne. I wouldn't see the allotment again until October.

John Austin

Hove, September 2019

Thursday, 24 October 2019



Closing address to the 21st Cetinje Forum Monday 30 September 2019

John Austin addressing the Cetinje Forum Sept 2019 

As the theme of this forum has been the media and parliament, I am not sure of my qualifications to speak today.  I have been retired for ten years, hold no political or public office and am not accountable to anyone.  Nor am I journalist, unless you accept the definition by Patrik Penninckx* that, in these days of social media, we are all unregulated journalists now.  But I have also been asked to comment on the role of the Forum and inter-Parliamentary dialogue.

Earlier this month, following the UK/Canada sponsored Global Conference on Media Freedom, the British Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union held a seminar on media freedom in London whose declared goal was to mobilise parliaments to speak up for media freedom.  The urgent tone of that conference reflected an acknowledgement by many that the decline in press freedom around the world - evidenced by record number of killings and imprisonment of journalists - represents a threat to free societies and to the rule of law.

Earlier this month the U.K. Parliament's cross party Foreign Affairs Committee published a stinging report criticising the U.K. Government's response to the murder of the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta, the killing of Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, and the kid glove attitude to Turkey despite sweeping evidence of violations of media freedom. The UK’s Foreign Affairs Committee report said that government initiatives should "move beyond the rhetoric and demonstrate real impact in defence of media freedom" and criticised the government for having been "too reliant on the goodwill of governments who have been the worst perpetrators".

But alongside the protection that must be afforded to journalists, there are also concerns about the takeover or media capture by political and partisan forces and in some countries the misuse of state resources for party political ends such has been seen in Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Hungary and Brazil.   I would draw your attention to a recent presentation** given by theUniversity of Sheffield to the BGIPU seminar, which shows clear media bias in Poland in support of the governing party.

But also, as Patrick Penninckx* has said, the concentration of media ownership in a few hands is of major concern in many countries, including my own.  Consideration needs to be given to the kind of regulation that might be needed to ensure diversity in ownership and control of the media.

But in addition to the media, we must recognise the important role that NGOs play in holding public institutions to account and the need for parliamentarians to protect them.  Of course rules of transparency need to apply to NGOs but NGOs are not enemies of the state when they criticise governments, politicians or political parties.  They are one of the checks and balances that are an essential part of the democratic process in a free society.

Margareta Cederfelt* spoke of the vital scrutiny role of MPs.  It should not need saying, but Parliamentarians themselves need protection if they are to fulfil their scrutiny role in holding the executive to account.  That is why the watchdog role played by the IPU through its Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians is so important.

Since scrutiny is one of the major roles played by MPs, I hope you will forgive an impertinent comment from a guest on parliamentary boycotts – which seem to be a recurring feature in some parts of this region.

As a partisan aside, strangely, in my country it’s not the opposition but the Prime Minister and the government who seem to want to boycott Parliament.

Parliamentarians must make their own decisions based on their own situations but I would like to draw your attention, and to the attention of any political parties advocating boycotts who are not here today, some recent research carried out in this region, commissioned by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy*** which provides evidence to suggest that political parties carrying out boycotts were in a worse regulatory environment when they returned to parliament than before.  Absence of MPs from parliament also means less scrutiny.

For parliaments to function it is vital that there is dialogue between MPs from differing parties but there is also a need for dialogue between parliamentarians from different countries – a need that has been partly met in this region through the Cetinje Forum but we should welcome and support other initiatives.

Following the Western Balkans Summit in London last year, the British Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union convened a parliamentary seminar focussed on the need for the role of Parliaments to be strengthened in the Berlin Process. At that seminar, one of my successors as Chair of the British Group of the IPU, John Whittingdale, welcomed the initiative of the Bulgarian Parliament who were organising a seminar on the Western Balkans later that month in conjunction with the European Parliament and he expressed the hope that regional parliamentary meetings would continue. He also stressed the importance of including young people and women in the political processes and referred to the work of the Regional Youth Co-operation Council and its unique network of young people.

The importance of parliaments involving other sections of society in the dialogue was touched on by Violeta Tomic* who referred to the need to involve under-represented and marginalised groups in society and of the growth of hate speech and fake news. We need mechanisms for engaging with women, young people and under-represented groups.  

It is also important to ask how people get their news and information.  My generation received news mainly from the printed media and broadcasting. My children’s generation receive their information less from newspapers and more from television and, more recently, social media.  My grandchildren’s generation, however, receive almost all of their news and information from peers and through social media.

Regulating the printed and broadcast media has thrown up problems – finding a balance between free speech and regulation, openness and privacy, and ensuring diversity in media ownership and control has proved difficult.

Social media throws up a new set of problems. How do you control fake news and hate speech?  With the printed and broadcast media it should be relatively easy because you know who said what.  But how do you regulate or fact-check social media?  The issue was raised by one of the contributors from the floor who referred to the use of bots, mechanically generated messaging, following filters and use of algorithms that draw us into echo chambers reinforcing our preconceived views and cultural tribalism.  

We see the use of sock puppets, false identities established with the aim of deception and manipulation of public opinion.  These are real challenges for our legislators with no easy solutions, but hopefully dialogues like today, between the media professionals and parliamentarians will help.

I conclude with some remarks about this Forum.  In 2002/2003, as Chair of the British Group of the IPU, I was approached by some Montenegrins, including the Deputy Speaker of the then State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, for support from the BGIPU to set up a Parliamentary Forum for the Balkans.  I think they might have been expecting some financial support, which we were unable to provide, but we did give active support and advice and encouragement and it led to the convening of the first Cetinje Forum here in 2004.  A forum for dialogue in a region which was emerging from war and national, ethnic and political conflict – a dialogue in keeping with the spirit and aims of the founders of the IPU, the French MP Frédéric Passy and the UK’s William Randall Cremer, who in 1889 had brought parliamentarians together to engage in dialogue to promote representative democracy and peace.  

2004, left to right Vlado Šibalić ,BGIPU Secretary Kenneth Courtenay, John Austin and Deputy Speaker Dr Milorad Drlevic. Dr Drlevic and his parliamentary adviser Vlado Šibalić were instrumental in the creation of the Forum but both left political office after independence. Dr Drlevic now heads the Medicines and Medical Devices Agency in Podgorica.

I was pleased to be invited to the first Cetinje Forum in 2004 together with my colleague Nigel Evans MP, who went on to become Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons – we come from different parties and from opposite wings of those parties and we have deep and profound political differences. We argue, and on some issues we find common ground, but where we don’t that doesn’t end the dialogue.  

2019 left to right Milorad Drlevic, John Austin and Vlado Šibalić at the Medicines and Medical Devices Agency, Podgorica.  Vlado Šibalić has recently returned to a post with the parliament in Montenegro.

Having addressed the first Forum in 2004, I was pleasantly surprised to be invited to return to address this 21st Cetinje Forum, celebrating your 15th Anniversary. I wish to congratulate our hosts, the Parliament of Montenegro for today’s event and we can reflect on a remarkable achievement of 15 years of dialogue. I look forward to the Cetinje Forum going from strength to strength in the coming years, contributing to peace and stability in this beautiful region.


*refers to speakers who contributed to the debate
Patrik Penninckx – Head of Information Society Department, Council of Europe
Margareta Cederfelt – Vice-President OSCE Parliamentary Assembly
Violeta Tomić – Member of Parliament, Slovenia

**Sheffield University presentation to BGIPU Seminar

***The WFD Report can be found at:

Details of the BGIPU Seminar can be found at

Monday, 21 October 2019

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on The Weald, August 2019

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on The Weald, August 2019

After our break in Ireland we were pleasantly surprised on our return to see that all was well on the plot and in our garden at home.  August has been a month for weeding, watering and picking but again there have been distractions that have kept us away.

The supply of first early potatoes came to an end last month and we began to lift some Charlotte. We almost completed lifting them last month and have started on the Nicola.  We have also had a good crop of runner beans which are now past their best but still edible. The early sown dwarf French beans are now finished but the late sown ones are producing a prolific crop. Hopefully the late sown Kelvedon Wonder peas will be ready to harvest next month.

Crown Prince squashes are among the most tasty and they also store well. They grow to about 2 - 3 kg. I had two growing very close together on the same stem and were just touching so I picked one, which weighed 1.6kg , leaving the other to grow on.

Crown Prince Squash 2 August
The tromboncinos were doing well...

Tromboncino 2 August

.....and at home we had a good crop of golden cherry tomatoes

golden cherry tomatoes 2 August

On the plot the pumpkins were growing to a good size and I had reduced their number to two

Pumpkin 2 August 
We picked some runner beans at the beginning of the month which were very tender and not at all stringy.
Runner beans 2 August
The courgettes, however, had achieved giant proportions

My courgette and my no.9 (43) shoe! 3 August
But then came another distraction! It was time to Ride London - watching not riding! but it did take up the whole weekend.  Saturday was a great day for the public - all the roads in the City of London traffic free - except for cyclists - and there was a massive turnout of all ages.

Ride London 3 August

warming up for the women's classique

Ready for the start - Women's Classique 3 August
Sunday was the big race - the Surrey/London 100 - and this year there was a change to the course with 5 climbs of Box Hill.

After a weekend in London it was back to nature.  My aubergine in a pot in the garden had one small fruit that had set and was producing more flowers.

Aubergine grown outdoors 7 August

Aubergine grown outdoors 7 August

home grown tomatoes 9 August

a good truss of home grown tomatoes 9 August
My brother had given me the pack of seeds about 18 months previously. Clearly a bargain!

today's picking 10 August
We were picking a bowlful of tomatoes almost every day.

Back on the allotment there were lots of green vegetables to be had.  The cavolo nero was excellent - it's a magnificent cut and come again vegetable.

Cavolo nero 13 August
We had a plentiful supply of French beans from our late sowing and they were plump tender pods.
French beans 13 August
We managed to harvest a few plums which had not been infected by brown rot, but sadly lost most.  But we had a plentiful supply of courgettes and cucumbers as well as the beans, squashes and greens. I also picked some of the leaves from the purple sprouting broccoli.
a good haul 13 August

Tromboncinos climbing at last 13 August

purple curly kale 13 August

runner beans - slightly past their best 13 August

a selection of squashes - tromboncino and patty pan 13 August
The white silver chard was also doing well. The stems can be cooked as a vegetable in their own right and the leaves can be used as spinach - or for a change stuffed as a substitute for vine leaves

....and our squashes lend themselves to all sorts of stuffings - vegetarian, cheese or meat

squashes, baked with a cheese and herb stuffing in a tomato sauce

squashes, baked with a cheese and herb stuffing in a tomato sauce

tromboncino and courgettes (or marrow!) 17 August

tromboncino, patty pan and courgette 23 August
Another distraction was my 75th birthday.  Not only were we entertaining seventy plus family and friends, but 13 were actually staying in our house.  But even the birthday party had an allotment theme.  My daughter-in-law, Nicole, had created an allotment on my cake, complete with raised beds and vegetables - all edible except for the bean-poles!

Nicole's creation 24 August
Needless to say but a lot of the cards had a horticultural theme (the rest seemed to be about wine!)  But one card stands out - it was another allotment, but this time hand embroidered by my nephew's wife, Sue.

Sue's creation 24 August
The weekend had coincided with the 40th anniversary of the release of the film Quadrophenia, commemorating the mods v rockers battles in Brighton in the 60s and we came across these as we left the party venue in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Outside The Gather Inn, Hove 25 August
 I had been busy in the kitchen over the birthday week-end as in addition to a party on the Saturday night we were organising a barbecue and buffet at home on the Sunday.  I was planning to roast a whole salmon and most of the cook-books and chefs describe cooking a 2.5kg - 3kg fish.  I knew what I was doing but just checked with them for oven temperature and timing.   When I ordered the fish, my local fishmonger said they did not usually have salmon that small and that their smallest was usually about 4 kg.  So I ordered one, but on the day, the smallest they had was over 5kg and I had a mild panic as to whether it would fit on the oven.

My 5kg salmon 24 August
One solution would have been to cut it in half, a head end and a tail end, cook them separately and put it back together after cooking.  But in the end I was able to bend it to just about fit my largest roasting tray.  And it worked!

We had also been given a Turk's Turban squash by my embroidering niece (who has her own allotment in Pagham).

Sue's Turk's turban 25 August

With my Crown Prince and tromboncinos,

Crown Prince

Crown Prince 25 August
....spicy barbecued squash was on the menu

And we had plenty of fiery cayenne peppers to liven things up

Cayenne peppers from the garden
Most of our chilli peppers are growing in pots in the garden or the conservatory but I have planted some out on the allotment and hopefully they will ripen next month.

For the last few days of August we were still entertaining family members but did manage a last trip to the allotment to harvest some veg. The month was drawing to a close and summer almost over but there was a plentiful supply and we will be harvesting fresh green vegetables well into the autumn and then it will be time for the winter leeks.

Chard, kale and cucumbers 27 August

French beans 30 August
It has been a very productive and enjoyable month.

John Austin

Hove, August 2019