Sunday, 20 June 2021

Your letters...

Compulsory winter tyres

Sir, — I find it incredible that drivers incapable of staying on a wintery road blame everybody but themselves.

One of the prime rules of the Highway Code is to drive in accordance with the prevailing conditions in a serviceable vehicle capable of coping with those conditions.

The recent outbreak of indignation that back country rat-runs were not salted only demonstrates their failure to anticipate and consider the likely icy conditions, the traction capabilities of their vehicles and their own driving skills.

The only thing that keeps you on the road is the coefficient of friction between the tyre and the surface and this is at its highest when stationary.

With the advent of traction control and ABS, the closeness of loss of control is often hidden until it is too late, and power steering hides early signs of a steering loss.

It is oft thought that a 4x4 is somehow superior, and in certain circumstances it is, but on ice or with excessive speed all it means is that all four wheels are doing exactly the same thing as you slide off the road.

Too often these modern safety devices hide the outside conditions from the driver and cuddle them into a state of blind trust in technology and open the first door towards death.

Curiously, in the UK it is not a normal driving test requirement to experience loss of tyre adhesion and vehicle handling when it happens and especially when not to use brakes in a slide! Rotating tyres grip better than locked up ones.

For winter starters, only the main through routes or local bus routes are salted as a matter of course, certainly not rat-runs, and these road maps along with their last salting times are readily available (in our case from Oxfordshire County Council, the highways authority).

But salt gets washed away with rain or traffic slush and is of no use whatsoever below -7 as it freezes.

There are enough clues around to choose which roads you ought to avoid and what speed you ought to be driving at. In snow, 5mph downhill on a corner is too fast and on ice you shouldn’t be trying it all. Rubber and ice are not compatible.

As a nation, we seem to use worn summer tyres all-year round and very rarely check the tracking on our steering unless it becomes blatantly obvious during a tyre change or after a severe Oxfordshire pothole encounter.

Both factors are lethal when grip is low as the vehicle doesn’t want to go in a straight line in the first place and provides a permanent asymmetric coefficient of friction to the front wheels (and makes ABS lose the plot too).

Winter tyres have a very different tread pattern and a much softer tyre rubber composition which stays flexible to much lower temperatures. Summer tyre rubber starts to harden towards freezing but winter tyres remain flexible to well below freezing.

We all know that snow sticks to snow when making snowballs and winter tyres have a very fibrous tread pattern that holds the snow to provide better traction and, being more flexible, throws the snow out afterwards for the next clean bite. These can be 80 per cent better than summer tyres.

Tyres don’t have to be changed at a tyre centre with the season, just buy another decent set of wheels (scrapyard?) for your winter tyres and simply change the entire wheels kit over at home as required. (Check your vehicle handbook for alternative winter wheel sizes allowed).

Winter tyres are not law in the UK but in my view should be part of an insurance requirement.

Simply put, a vehicle driven deliberately with inappropriate tyres for the conditions is not roadworthy and therefore any insurance is not valid (as with an MOT failure).

Many countries designate a date or an altitude when this law applies regardless of conditions and have enough traffic police to enforce it! Hmm.

How did Devil’s Hill get its name anyway? — Yours faithfully,

Dirk Jones

Kennylands Road, Sonning Common

Potholes bad for cyclists

Sir — While potholes are an inconvenience for drivers, they can be lethal for cyclists.

I have cycled (and driven) in and around Henley for some 37 years.

I can happily report that Henley drivers are mostly very considerate of cyclists but an unexpected pothole can make a cyclist suddenly swerve, forcing a driver to take quick evasive action.

I am so far unscathed from several such incidents.

Potholes have also caused me to lose lights off my bicycle on three occasions and then cycle home only partially lit.

Next time we elect our councillors, when they present their credentials, they should tell us how far they cycle each week on average.

I understand that primary children receive safe-cycling instruction. Why not give the same to our able-bodied councillors?

If they cycled more than they appear to, this might ensure that potholes received swift attention. — Yours faithfully,

John Thornley

Makins Road, Henley

Roads are crumbling

Sir, — I am in total agreement with your correspondent Barny Ross-Lee in being fed up with potholes (Standard, February 3).

The roads in Henley are in the most appalling condition. A few years ago it was just the odd pothole here and there but now the roads are literally breaking up.

Oxfordshire County Council has a duty under section 41 of the Highways Act 1980 to maintain the highway network in its area.

I wonder just how bad the roads have to get before this rule is implemented. Cars are being shaken to bits on our roads — mine included.

In my own village of Shiplake, parts of Station Road and Mill Road are so bad that last week a car driver was forced to go on to the pavement to avoid a pothole.

Despite endless pleas for resurfacing, Oxfordshire Highways refuses to make repairs where they are needed. It says it does not have the funds to do so. Many of Henley’s roads have not been resurfaced in decades.

The average family car is not designed to cope with such poor road surfaces. Only the 4x4-style vehicles are sturdy enough to withstand the daily pounding from driving in Henley. — Yours faithfully,

Jayne Edmunds

Station Road, Shiplake

My worst meal out ever

Sir, — I had a disastrous evening in the Cau restaurant in Hart Street, Henley, on Saturday, January 21.

I had booked a table for six people for the family to celebrate my brother’s 40th birthday and my own birthday.

We arrived on the dot of 7pm (unusually punctual for us) and were shown to our table, right at the back of the restaurant in the conservatory, where it was absolutely freezing.

After removing our coats it was only a few minutes, no seconds, before five of us put them back on while the sixth person was “trying to be manly”. I’d happily call him stupid but it was his birthday.

I asked the waitress about the temperature and she commented that “it is bit of a problem — freezing down here and too hot up the other end”. I asked another member of staff if we could please be seated somewhere warmer.

Both waitresses were polite, acknowledged the request and suggested that if it was possible they would happily oblige.

When the drinks (with ice cubes!) arrived, after what felt like forever and a day, we ordered our food and asked for a bread basket.

The bread basket arrived promptly — there’s no cooking involved, so you can’t get that wrong, can you? Well, you can if you serve it without any plates!

Given what can only be described as “chaos” between the waiting staff, we couldn’t draw anybody’s attention to the fact we were having to eat from our napkins.

Meanwhile, five of us were still in our coats, using scarves as blankets like grannies on an open-top bus cruising in Antarctica.

By this point I was a little upset, so I found a gentleman who looked like he may have a little common sense and explained that I had not envisaged eating my dinner in my coat and please could I have a table somewhere warmer?

He explained that the heating had been on all day, adding: “I do know it is a little colder back there...”

After that all I heard was “but, but, but... excuse, excuse etc...” to which, due to his lack of apology and empathy, I replied “I don’t care, please move me”. He did — to an empty table just a few feet inside the main restaurant where it was about two degrees warmer.

The table was beautifully laid out complete with side plates. This would have been perfect 10 minutes before but we had already eaten our bread in our igloo where the butter stayed as hard to spread as the sarcasm in this letter is to swallow.

Having moved tables, I could almost feel my hands and feet and was hoping to enjoy the rest of the meal. Alas, this was not going to happen.

We tried to cheer ourselves up with a little game of “what does CAU stand for?” I’m afraid the best we could come up with was Cold And Underwhelming...

After more than an hour waiting for steak (nothing complicated or imaginative for a “steak” restaurant), we all had steak! Would you believe it, steak! We were also brought mushrooms, onion rings and extra fries, which we hadn’t ordered. My sister and I both ordered the rib eye, medium, same cut, same size. Mine walked over to me and plonked itself down on my plate it was so rare, but my poor sister’s steak could have resoled Ghandi’s flip-flops it was so overcooked.

The waitress said she couldn’t identify a cut of steak once it had been cut into but agreed they were not cooked to perfection. Given that mine was blue and it was still excellent weather for penguins, it was also cold.

Can I discuss the chips too? Skinny fries, lovely. Everyone loves them, right? Oh, the irony of a fat food with an anorexic name!

But I’m a chunky, dunking chip girl and was looking forward to something that was named for what it is... a fat chip (and guaranteed warmth to boot).

Thus can you imagine my disappointment when a basket full of deep fried roast potatoes turned up?

Now I love a roast potato on a Sunday with lashings of gravy but wait, this was not Sunday, this was Saturday and I had been promised a chunky chip as described on the menu.

By then I was kind of feeling like I would have been better off getting dressed up for a kebab on a cold street corner. I mean, you know what you’re getting right? A kebab. No heirs or graces, no dressing it up to be something it is not. The waitress said she would like the opportunity to do the steaks again, which was the right thing for her to do, but I wasn’t prepared to wait for another hour for another disaster.

I forgot to mention that by this time I had been to use the ladies. Now I know that you’re thinking this lunatic isn’t going to complain about the toilet too... well, I sure am.

On pushing the door open, I chuckled a bit for the first time that evening because it was so cold in there I could see my own breath! I’ve been in warmer toilets in the open air of Mont Blanc during a blizzard.

I’m afraid we were all so pee’d off that we just wanted to leave. We were offered a cocktail. Very fancy.

Now, in order to be constructive as well as critical, no less than three members of staff openly admitted that the heating the conservatory in winter was near-on impossible.

Thus, why hasn’t Cau hired extra heaters? It shouldn’t be allowing those tables in the freezing cold to be booked except for, possibly, a themed ski party.

With regards to the food, the restaurant should serve what it says it is capable of serving.If two people on the same table order medium steak, make sure it is cooked medium and, if it says it serves chips, then please serve chips.

Honestly, this was the worst experience I’ve had in a restaurant in a long time. I don’t have one single positive thing to say about it.

The service was slow and chaotic, the food was awful, the ambiance was ruined by the discomfort of the extreme cold and there was absolutely no apology for any of it.

And the best bit.. two of my party are chefs. Perhaps they could pop in and give the Cau guys some tips? That’s probably the only way you’ll ever get any one of us back in a CAU restaurant again. — Yours faithfully,

Cheryl Purver

Aston

Adam Hayward, operations manager at Gaucho, London, responds: “Thank you for the honest feedback — I can clearly see why you were so disappointed with your recent visit.

“There are issues with the heating in the back of the restaurant and we are working to permanently fix them. In the meantime, we have placed a couple of fan heaters in the back of the restaurant which has made a huge difference, if only a temporary fix.

“With regards to the chips and steak quality, again I completely understand your frustration. Chips are an integral part of steak and chips, a classic dish that we are proud to say we do as good as, if not better, than most — something we have been perfecting for more than 30 years. When the chips are wrong it is such a letdown and a disappointment. I can’t really make any excuses as I have seen and tasted the fat chips many times and they’re usually spot on, so I will continue to ensure the rogue chips you experienced don’t make a reappearance.

“CAU (pronounced Cow) stands for Carne Argentina Unica, which translates as unique Argentinian meat. Well, it seems that the thing we pride ourselves on the most was completely wrong too and was unique for its faults, not its quality.

“I can assure you that we take our beef very seriously and go through every process to ensure we get the best possible cuts we can. We also extensively train our grillers in all aspects of beef and grilling beef. Again, I would like to assure you that the fact you had two steaks cooked differently and incorrectly is absolutely not the norm and for this I can only apologise.

“It certainly seems the restaurant was understaffed and overstretched on this evening.

“With all the above in mind, I would love for you to give CAU another chance. I would be confident that we can demonstrate the level of food quality and service we usually provide our guests and win you over.

“If you decide to take me up in my offer I would like to contribute £150 to your bill.”

Consequence of non-belief

Sir, — Your correspondent Mrs K Pinder asserts that non-believers in the saving work of Jesus Christ will have a “catastrophic surprise after death” when they realize that they have “no place in God’s kingdom” (Standard, February 3).

If they are so surprised it means that they did not understand the consequences of unbelief and who is to blame for that?

What are we to think of the communication system of Mrs Pinder’s god and what are we to think of her righteous acceptance of such an appallingly unfair situation? — Yours faithfully,

Douglas Kedge

Lea Road, Sonning Common

‘Debate’ was undemocratic

Sir, — A meeting of Wokingham Borough Council on November 17 was due to hold what was described as “a debate” on a petition supporting Hare Hatch Sheeplands in its planning dispute with the council.

On the evening a member of the public asked council leader Keith Baker why the council had chosen to limit the debate to the length of a normal council meeting rather than engage in “a full and open debate”.

It was pointed out that the council had peviously held a similar meeting at a local school, thus allowing a greater number of residents to attend.

In his reply, Councillor Baker said: “I do not accept that tonight’s debate will not result in a full and open debate.”

Crucially, he then said: “My understanding is that all councillors wishing to speak will have the opportunity to do so.”

We now know that this was not the case. A Liberal Democrat councillor tried to table a motion during the discussion but was not allowed to do so.

Since the meeting Councillor Emma Hobbs has publicly stated that she had wanted to speak at the meeting in favour of Hare Hatch Sheeplands but was prevented from doing so by the council’s legal department.

In addition, Councillor Gary Cowan, while not mentioning Sheeplands by name, publicly claimed that the ruling group on the council was acting “to silence any reasonable vocal debate” on various issues.

Several members of the public asked questions of the council at the meeting but in response individual councillors simply read from a prepared document.

No follow-up questions were answered on the evening. It was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a debate.

I therefore claim that the council has failed to comply with its duty to offer Hare Hatch Sheeplands a full and fair hearing.

There is sufficient evidence to conclude that individual councillors were “gagged” and the session steered firmly towards a conclusion that the ruling group on the council had agreed before the meeting even began.

I therefore request that an inquiry is held into this blatant failure to implement the democratic debate process that residents of the borough are entitled to expect from our council. — Yours faithfully,

Mike Shattock

Earley

New care unit is excellent

Sir, — As there has been so much negative publicity and letters complaining about our new Townlands hospital, I am writing regarding my recent experience.

Last week I was referred by my GP to the rapid access care unit due to complications arising from recent hip surgery.

On arrival I was greeted by a very efficient and friendly team who could not have been more caring.

I then met Dr Alison Espley, who is in charge of the unit. I was given various blood tests and thorough examinations.

I was also visited by the physiotherapist who immediately arranged for equipment to be delivered to my home.

We were offered freshly made sandwiches and coffee and were in the unit for nearly four hours and another appointment was made for the following day.

I could not have received better care anywhere — private or otherwise.

After the hustle and bustle of attending the Royal Berks and the nightmare of parking there, we should really appreciate how fortunate we are in having this unit on our doorstep. — Yours faithfully,

Joan French

Orchard Close, Shiplake Cross

I turned hotel into homes

Sir, — I was interested in your Hidden Henley item about the Bull in Nettlebed (Standard, February 3) as I was the person who converted the hotel into housing some 20-plus years ago.

There is no doubt that there was a building on the site in the 15th century.

There is a fresco in one of the upper rooms. When we had it examined during the building works, it was dated by experts who said it was so similar to one in Oxford (I cannot recall where) that they were very likely by the same hand.

The façade on to High Street looks Georgian and probably is. It serves no structural purpose. That part of the building has a timber frame which shows every sign of being erected in two stages.

The Nettlebed Stores general shop was at one time in High Street to the east of the Bull. There was, however, a shop in the western part of the Bull building kept by Mrs Elms (for a long time the parish clerk) and her husband.

As far as I recall, it was a sweetshop/tobacconist downstairs and a haberdashers upstairs. — Yours faithfully,

Mark Bicknell

History of the Bull Inn

Sir, — In his article last week about the Bull Hotel in Nettlebed, your Diarist Thomas Octavius asked for more information on this historic building. I hope you find the following helpful and of interest to readers.

The existing building is Grade II listed and dates back to the 18th century, possibly around 1720, with early Georgian architecture. It was built in the local Nettlebed brick.

However, the Victorian County History volume XVII records that “surviving internal decoration includes an interlaced design enclosing a floral pattern in a first-floor chamber of the Bull of a type common in 16th century inns”.

It is possible that Elizabeth I (1558-1603) could have stayed here, although the Bull was owned by the Roman Catholic Stonor family and possibly, for that reason, there is no record of her ever stopping here.

The VCH also mentions that because of a shortage of small coinage in the 17th century due to the Civil War, the Bull’s landlord David Gasquon minted his own coins or tokens in 1665 and “was taxed on having ten hearths” — there was no escape from the taxman even then.

At the beginning of the 18th century seemingly the original inn was either rebuilt or received a new look as many of the frontages of other houses in the high street were refaced with more expensive brick in the fashionable Georgian style.

The façade of the Bull also incorporated a classical pediment spanning the whole frontage, an architectural feature copied from that of ancient temples which can still be seen today — very grand indeed for a building in a small Oxfordshire village but no doubt it attracted custom.

The Bull Inn was central to Nettlebed village life. It was kept busy catering for the tired and thirsty passengers of the London-Oxford-Holyhead stagecoaches when horses were changed here after toiling up the steep and rough Chiltern roads.

Several businesses occupied buildings in the yard of the Bull, including bodgers turning chair legs for the local furniture industry as well as stabling for stagecoach horses.

For more history of Nettlebed, visit www.nettlebed.org — Yours faithfully,

Malcolm Lewis

Pearces Meadow, Nettlebed

Appeal for old photos

Sir, — Does anyone have a photograph of the houses that once stood where Singers Close in Henley is now?

I have heard from some local people that there were two houses on this plot of land.

The house on the corner of St Andrew’s Road and Vicarage Road was called The Gables and the other, possibly, Beechwood.

I would be intrigued to see some photos purely for my own interest in the history of this part of Henley.

There was another house on St Andrew’s Road (No 7) which was adjacent to St Mary’s School and was used as a nursing home in the Sixties.

If anybody can help, please call me on either (01491) 577101 or 07771 731950. — Yours faithfully,

Wayne Smith

Singers Close, Henley

Helping keep needy warm

Sir, — Following the successful launch of Henley Lions Club’s winter fuel project in November, we are delighted to report a fantastic response and, through the letters page, would like to thank all those generous people who have donated some or all of their government winter fuel allowance.

Your donations have already helped a number of families and individuals in the Henley area.

Working with Nomad and Citizens Advice Henley, we have been able to ensure the heating stays on in sometimes quite desperate situations where families have really tried but still hit on hard times. We know there will be many more families needing help.

Henley Lions can only help in these situations with your support.

The smiles and sense of relief on the faces of those we have helped is an enormous thank-you to you.

If you would like to join the many people who have already donated please visit www.henleylions.org.uk and click on the “donate” button and you will be re-directed to the Henley Lions Virgin Money giving account where under “support us” you can “make a donation” and follow the instructions. Please Gift Aid if you can.

Alternatively, send an email to our treasurer at donate@henleylions.org.uk who will send you details of how to donate.

Thank you again for your support and we assure you that every penny of the money donated is solely for helping those in need who cannot pay their fuel bill. — Yours faithfully,

Ian Tritton

On behalf of Henley Lions Club

Very happy walkers

Sir, — We were delighted to receive the following email from a couple who had been walking on our farmland at Lys Mill, Watlington:

“Hi, my wife and I went for a walk from Watlington yesterday [December 22] and I wanted to say thank-you for being a good landowner/ manager.

“As we turned off the Ridgeway, I said, ‘well done, farmer’ when I saw there was a permissive path allowing us to walk in a field with a great view rather than between two hedges and on a road.

“Then, as the end of the field, it got even better with the seat provided.

“The extra signing and additional permissive paths were great as well.

“The best and well done.”

At Copas Farms we acknowledge the attractiveness of the countryside and accept the importance of footpaths to make access available.

Wherever possible, we expand the network of public footpaths by creating “permitted paths” and viewing points with seating.

It was good to learn from this couple that they appreciated our efforts in that respect. — Yours faithfully,

Geoffrey Copas

Copas Farms, Hedsor, Taplow

Longer than presidential

Sir, — Perhaps the most amusing, if not the longest, word, is Trumpermegalomania. — Yours faithfully,

Derek Shirley

Phyllis Court Drive, Henley

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