Scrooge tax unfair

Despite the pandemic, most families are looking forward to Christmas and the New Year. Meanwhile, our local council bean counters are busy assessing the taxes that we should be paying in the next financial year. One tax that only Andover residents pay is a Scrooge Tax which is imposed on us by Conservative Test Valley.

The Scrooge Tax was set up when Andover was an unparished area, and Andover had to pay for parish level services. Fair enough you could argue. Once the town council came into being, the tax should have gone as the town council was raising its own taxes to cover parish level expenses. The Conservatives however continued with this double taxation sleight of hand. On your tax bill you will see it as the Andover Special Expenses Levy, and you will note two things. It is higher than the Andover Town tax, and it is very special to Andover as we are the only people who get ripped off by it.

I am not clear what the money is used for apart from a slush fund for Test Valley. It does call into question Conservative claims of financial competence if they have to rely on such tactics. The take from the Scrooge Tax has been increasing as the number of houses in Andover has gone up and urban areas from other parishes, such as Burghclere Down, have been transferred across due to boundary reviews. It does no good for hard-pressed families in Andover who pay the Scrooge Tax. Romsey for example does not pay it and gets the same if not better services. Yet again we are treated as second class citizens. Whatever political party you belong to this is an unfair and illegal tax. One of my New Year resolutions is Bin the Scrooge Tax. Demand better from your local politicians, if not, bin them as well.

Luigi Gregori, Charlton Road, Andover.

Who will riot?

The UK appears to be drifting towards yet another disaster. A year ago, when the country still had a chance to reclaim some sanity, we overwhelmingly elected Mr Johnson. This was probably to be expected, given the opposition that he was faced with.

The country appointed the Tories to get on and complete Brexit. The new government, we were assured, had already drafted an oven-ready agreement and the EU just had to agree with it. Herein lies the fundamental weakness in how New Conservatism reasons.

It is based upon a narrow world view that the rest of the world will simply allow our Anglo-centric perspective to prevail. Mercifully, this is not how everyone in this country reasons. Many have grown up understanding that the UK can indeed be effective and persuasive, but that this works best when co-operation with our neighbours occurs. Disaster looms then, only its magnitude uncertain.

If, on January 1, the UK enters 2021 with a deal with the EU, many parts of the economy will nevertheless be faced with increased costs and paperwork. At worst, chaos beckons: the costs and paperwork associated with no deal will endanger many companies and jobs.

The country can ill-afford this as it seeks to rectify the Covid haemorrhage. What is more, numerous everyday products will increase in price, or remain undelivered, stuck in warehouses or in lorries on the M20.

Europe, and the world, is at best, entertained. At worst it is dismissive. Britain’s reputation is at stake and - as most of us know, Mr Johnson - a lost reputation is really hard to regain. This feels like the worst moment to be British since the 2016 Referendum. Joking apart, this is likely to be a major historic aberration: the period resembles the time late in Mrs Thatcher’s leadership, when the country’s fortunes were about to be decimated by the poll tax. People rioted and reason prevailed. But this time, who will riot? Social media and Netflix have become the opiates for the masses.

Ray Bryant, Burghclere Down, Andover.

Seaside would be better

It would not surprise many that the town is now being treated as a back water, the Covid restrictions on a community which has abided by the principles of protecting the populous, against this virus. A for the camp for vulnerable asylum seekers, would a coastal place with fresh air not be a better prescription than Barton Stacey?

Luke Hysted, Elm Bank Road, Andover.

Thoughts on being hungry

These are the first words you use as soon as you are able to walk. Your hunger. From dawn to dusk, you have been out running, skipping, wrestling, cycling and laughing and screaming. Climbing trees and swinging from branch to branch was essential training as we were all going to join the travelling circus; such glamour and excitement. Essential equipment for a child is a pocket knife, a box of matches and a rope).

The I’m hungry cry became ‘I’m starving’, ‘Hank marvin’, ‘my stomach thinks my throats cut’ and of course, ‘I could eat a dead horse between two bread vans’. The answer was always the same, you’ll just have to wait. But fresh peas from the pod and young carrots straight from the ground in the garden would do for a while. Or food from the hedgerow and just the once several crab apples. Everyone grew vegetables and fruit, not as a hobby but to provide food for the family.

As a child, in the garden, we had chickens. Every day they were to be given peelings to keep them healthy. The day would come when one would have to be dispatched and,as a boy, you are expected to be witness and learn the technique of pulling the neck for instant and painless.... well your not allowed to say death now so let’s just say passing.The trouble was as soon as you were strong enough you had to do the deed yourself, and properly to cause minimum distress and pain - to the bird that is not yourself.

But then a dreadful virus struck and quickly spread throughout the country. A virus released on purpose. Myxomatosis, a dreadful and painful death for rabbits. At school we were taught never to pass a stricken animal but to stop and hasten it’s death, the kindest thing to do, you see we are a nation of animal lovers - or were.

How we laugh when ill-informed people talk of our high animal welfare standards. No civilised nation allows animals to be kept in pain. Or keep poultry in confined spaces without allowing them to see grass or get their leg over. Or farm fish without allowing them to swim freely or get their... fin over.

Now that we have left the dreaded EU we can improve our standards and one of the first things is to prevent livestock being exported live on long cramped journeys. The RSPCA has been campaigning for this for decades but EU rules stopped us doing it, now we can. Rant over.

Back to the childhood, we always had the same thing to eat at every meal - wait and see. What’s for tea, wait and see, what’s for.... You get the idea. And eat it we did because we were hungry. There was always a choice, ‘or leave it’ was one of the two.

People on ‘I’m a celeb’ pulled faces at everything offered, always saying ‘I’ve never had that’. Rabbit, squirrel, monkfish, eel, crab,pigeon, crayfish,mutton, duck..everything. So what do they eat? Meat mystery takeaways perhaps.

But memories are one thing but genuine modern hunger quite another. We saw children at school wearing leg irons - metal supports for their weak legs. We now know this was caused by a vitamin deficiency caused by poor diet.

But now we are told that children are going hungry and even starving in our country. This is the national scandal that must be addressed, now. The easy thing is to blame our elected prime minister but parents, teachers, social workers, charities, children welfare staff and all of us need to prevent this abuse. Time for action methinks.

Brian Forrest, Andover.

Xmas of the past

Whilst raking up the endless fallen leaves I was acutely aware that I was not alone. As I looked around I saw a real life Christmas Card dancing before my eyes and regarding me with much friendliness, bright eyes shining and coat pristine. “Hello Mr Robin”, I said and he responded by hopping and fidgeting from one twig to the next, his red breast puffed out so proud.

This enchanting moment provided a welcome break and I found myself reminiscing and musing over how time has passed so quickly as yet again the season of goodwill is upon us despite the various Covid restrictive impediments.

As I stood there, rake in hand, my meandering mind recalled Christmases of yesteryear.

I remember the night when, as a tot, I definitely heard Rudolph’s hoof on the roof slates and by the time I had scrambled excitedly from my warm bed and my trotters had met the cold lino and I’d pulled back the curtain, Santas’ sleigh had vanished and been swallowed up by the vast diamond studded night sky.

No central heating so, like lots of people in those days we would be greeted with shivery cold mornings. However, they always presented this little scamp with an irresistible opportunity to spoil Jack Frosts’ fabulous icy feathered creations on the bedroom window, and with relatively warm fingers I would spend time melting his superb efforts but not for long – too cold!

I remember it snowing one Christmas day. Natures’ timing was perfect. The snow began levelling out all the irregularities of the landscape and later the clear night sky radiated the moons glow that seemed to coat the snow with an iridescent lustre. Quite magical.

Venturing down to the great metropolis that was Andover town centre as a seven year old, I was met with a myriad of brightly coloured lights emanating from all the shops. A sort of wonderland daubed with Dickensian brushstrokes. The level crossing gates would close to allow a belching locomotive through on its merry way to Southampton. What a thunderous sight! Further on there was Toyland which was rather special. Nose against the window time there. The festive Western Café was above. Next door, the bus station, full of people on and off the buses all in Christmas preparation bustle, faces aglow with expectation. Not far away A J Stevens with his “meat to please you” had rows of game hanging reluctantly along the upper reaches at the front of his shop and further along on Burdens Corner the same, an equally fantastic sight, birds all standing to attention in regimental form – all up side down of course.

Turning into the bedecked High Street Lady Guildhall beckoned her people to her forecourt where the Salvation Army would seasonally flavour the air with Christmas carols. The five departmental stores were humming with custom and so alive and the folk full of bonhomie as were the three hundred or so one man band shops that provided Andovarians with such a wide variety of merchandise to choose from. Woollies was a must as well as Miss Pearces’ Toy Bazaar. An overwhelming Aladdins Cave of boys wonderstuff. People were truly spoilt for choice back then it seemed. Everyone was full of goodwill and there were lots of kisses and embraces and sincere good wishes that I felt an undercurrent of unbounded joy and excitement for the days ahead. No school either! Big bonus!

My hard earned pennies were spent on presents for my Mum and Dad, and my sister Tina hoping that I would be rewarded with really good surprises like a brand new yo-yo or spangles or caps for my six shooter!

My most intriguing present as a youngster, I suppose, was a mysteriously wrapped gift. I used to feel the presents, I used to feel them all when no one was looking! But this one I just could not guess what it was. I thought what a toy this must be. Wow! It must be really good. It was soft in places and hard in others and really bendy. It turned out to be a hot water bottle in the shape of a saluting soldier.

As Tina and I moved into double figures age-wise, we would go carol singing underneath the street lamps. The street gas lamp lighter would arrive and light them all, one at a time, with a long tapered rod. I always saw him light them but strangely never saw him put them out.

We would have a log fire and the chestnuts would explode until I learnt to snip them. The old zinc copper was released from its regular drudgery of washing and utilised for cooking the Christmas puds. The old furry wooden stick would poke and prod them around. The evenings saw cards played between the Uncles and Aunties surrounded by a fog of cigarette and cigar smoke. Newmarket was a favourite card game. Little me felt important because I was the gopher and had to keep the drinks coming for the family members.

Midnight mass celebrated and friends reacquainted. Incense stinging my eyes but nevertheless singing with gusto but quite possibly off key much to my nephew Johns’ dismay.

Some Christmases seemed to go on for days and late presents were always most welcome. Other Christmases would be over sooner than this youngster would have wished.

Jenny and I will look forward to going on our walks and appreciating the warm glow of Christmas log fires and lights that invitingly shine out from the houses on route. We shall exchange Seasonal Greetings with Parson Brown on our way, for that is when good tidings and grateful thoughts to all really explode from this gladdened heart.

What a crazy year we all have gone through but will we get to experience the satisfyingly soft crunch of new lain snow beneath our boots on Christmas day? Who knows Mr Robin? Now jump back into that delightful Christmas card image of yours and let me finish these leaves.

Merry Christmas to all Goodly People.

John “Jingle Bells” Porter, Millway Road, Andover.

Festive poem

‘I wish it could be xmas every day’ la la

Is every body having fun?

We look now to the future

The virus vaccine has begun.

Is Mama kissing Santa Claus

Is your stocking on the wall?

Just a touch of snowy whiteness

Would bloom the joy for all.

Rudolph the red nose reindeer

Is skipping down to run,

With presents smiles and kisses

For you and me and Mum.

‘So here it is, our Merry Xmas?’

Are Fathers dressed in red?

With a biscuit, beer and chuckle

Your presents lie hidden underneath your bed.

Linda Price, Andover.