Battersea Park treeSo, for this week’s collection of odds and ends. This week’s photo doesn’t really have any artistic merit – composition and exposure could be better – but it is from Battersea Park where autumn is making itself known. The park really is beautiful at this time of year, and almost magical if you see the early morning mist, and that attracts me to the photo.

I’ve become an unlikely cycling enthusiast this week, surprising even myself by my desire to use the bike following last week’s training. It has, so far, been an interesting experience and one that really validates the purpose of the scheme – empathy is all well and good, but putting yourself in the position is much better. I intend to write a little about it as time progresses. But it also makes me think I need to look out for more opportunities to try new things for myself.

Keeping to the cycling theme I managed to cycle to two of my three trips to the Town Hall this week! The first was:

Local Strategic Partnership
The Local Strategic Partnership (LSP) is the partnership of partnerships in Wandsworth. It has members from the council, police, health service, business and voluntary sectors and it responsible for the high level direction Wandsworth takes.

I was first made a member in 2006 (after a short period as a deputy member) and will not deny that it was not my favourite meeting. However, shortly after I joined the membership was changed and the meetings became far more productive and far more harmonious. I hope that will show in the Corporate Area Assessment report when published.

Full council
The second cycling meeting. And not a terribly interesting one. Most of the evening was consensual. The only real debate was over aircraft noise and Heathrow expansion (something the council has long campaigned against). Even there the Labour Party agreed with us, but then somehow voted against. So they support campaigns against airport expansion, but don’t. I confess I don’t understand the logic, but as long as they can justify it to the electorate I suppose that’s what matters.

Nine Elms Opportunity Board
Tuesday saw the first meeting of the Nine Elms Opportunity Board (with the great acronym NEOB). Actually the body has existed for a long time under the name Power Station Opportunity Board but has recently been expanded to include more of the major developers from the Nine Elms area. NEOB’s role is to make sure we get all we can out of the area, not only in terms of development, but also in opportunities for local residents.

It is an incredibly exciting time for the area, which is central London’s largest opportunity zone and things are, hopefully, finally starting to move. The US Embassy’s decision may have been a major coup, but New Covent Garden Market are starting consulting on their redevelopment and the Power Station put in their planning application (which fill two large chests) last week. I can’t wait to see how things develop.

Maurice Heaster
And finally last night saw a celebration of Maurice Heaster’s forty years on Wandsworth Council. Although being a councillor, and especially a Cabinet Member, is increasingly becoming a ‘paid job’, for over thirty of those forty years Maurice was effectively a volunteer so it really is no mean achievement to have dedicated so much of one’s life to the council and community.

It was a really good celebration of everything he has done, both on the council and outside and a pleasure to attend. It was particularly pleasing to see both parties there (even if Tony Belton was, for many people, far too pointedly political in some of his comments) recognising that, despite differences, public service is still something to celebrate.

When I first became a councillor it seemed the big issue – everywhere – was controlled parking. I found myself put onto the Regeneration and Transport Committee, where every meeting was dominated by parking issues.

As a non-driver I won’t pretend I found it anything but dull. Of course, there was a degree of being the callow youth – I’d got on the council to do things, not talk about parking. But perhaps most importantly I’d not fully understood Tip O’Neill’s famous dictum: “all politics is local.” I’d failed to appreciate that, for many many people, this was the most important issue they faced. I was lacking empathy.

Now you could argue they should have had bigger issues, and that might be a perfectly valid argument, but my youthful zeal didn’t even get there – it didn’t interest me and that was that.

I happen to think that my empathy skills are fairly good, and that I just wasn’t employing them. You would certainly think that being older and wiser I’d be much more attuned to them. But my stint of being a new man has made me realise I’m not.

For a start I’ve realised that life as a responsible parent is much much harder and more tiring than I ever expected. Having to give all your attention to a little one who isn’t quite as keen as you are on not making a mess and staying out of danger is, frankly, draining – especially as there is no break. No chat at the water cooler or 10 minutes outside for a cigarette.

And you see the world outside in a totally different light. Crossing a heavily parked street becomes a challenge as you have to navigate not only yourself but a pram safely not only across the road, but between narrow gaps between cars. Even the pavement becomes a potential mine-field when you spot dog-fouling ahead. Any trip must be planned meticulously and contingencies prepared.

And even where buildings are suitable they aren’t necessarily thought through; yesterday I realised it was going to be much easier to drag a pram down the steps of the Post Office than fight my way through the huge queue to get to the step-free exit. Given that there is always a huge queue there I suspect this is a decision that has to be taken regularly.

I would hasten to add that this isn’t just about seeing the bad that people face. I was surprised to get multiple hellos from other pram-pushers I passed, something I would never have got if I had been walking past as a single man. There’s clearly a camaraderie – if not a community – between Battersea’s stay-at-home parents. Sadly I know that my gender and lack of enthusiasm for NCT classes precludes me from full participation in lunchtime gatherings at baby friendly caf├ęs.

And this brings me to cycling. A few weeks ago I was invited to attend some cycle training by the Wandsworth Cycling Campaign. The idea being that if they can educate ‘Movers and Shakers’ (links to a PDF file) about the needs and concerns of cyclists then those needs and concerns are more likely to be addressed in policy-making.

My initial reaction wasn’t eagerness. I know little of cycling but I do know some key facts: I know traffic lights don’t seem to apply to bikes in the same way they do to cars and pedestrians; I know that no man looks good in a cycling helmet; I know that the one time I rode a bike in the last 20 years it left a part of my body (of which I know the medical name but modesty forbids me repeating here) hurting for two days afterwards.

But after the revelation that my empathy needs brushing up, perhaps I should put my ignorance, vanity and perineum (there, I said it, happy?) to the test – if only to remind myself that putting yourself in someone else’s shoes isn’t always as easy, natural or straightforward as you might think.