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News Insight: Cross con; dial a caveman; legal library closures?

Every week on the Strawberry Line times website ( Harry Mottram looks behind the stories you read in your local paper, scan from the internet or overhear in the pub that concerns this area

Rolex watch: con men in the Strawberry Line District

You’d think Somerset would be the last place Italian con men would operate – but the other day I almost fell for a scam that is more common to the streets of Rome than Cross near Axbridge. I was crossing the road to the New Inn when a white sports car pulled up. Inside were two men. The passenger wound down the window and he introduced themselves as lost Italian tourists. They asked for directions to Gatwick – I showed them the route on their map and in thanks they handed me what appeared to be a Rolex watch insisting I have it as a thank you. They then asked me if I could lend them cash for petrol as their card wouldn’t work. I smelt a rat and threw the watch back through the window of the car. They sped off at high speed leaving me somewhat confused.

A quick scan of the internet revealed how common these schemes are. This from bq125 Belfast on Tripadvisor: “A mature Italian man was stopping unsuspecting tourists and asking directions. He thanks you and then offers some clothing and then he says that he is out

of petrol and could you lend him some money. As he has given you something for nothing you almost feel obliged to help. A refusal will see him grab the clothes back and make off at speed.”

And this from Brenda Reed at Virtual Tourist: “We were walking to the Colosseum area when a car pulled up and the driver asked if we spoke English. He proceeded to tell us how he was running late and needed directions to the train station. We used his map to explain how to get there and he wanted to thank us with a gift. He ‘just happened’ to have a really nice leather jacket and a designer handbag for me. When we refused, he said we offended him and he tried to talk us into keeping them. As we stood there holding the stuff trying to get out of this conversation politely, he then showed us his broken credit card and asked for gas money.”

None of this is new. The pigeon drop goes back to Classical times when naive peasants arrived in Rome or Athens to seek work. It relies on the victim thinking they’ve stumbled upon a chance to make money and also (like me) being gullible. If you come across such a scam in the Strawberry Line District you should contact the police on 101 and pass on the details.

Cheddar man: all the way from Australia

They’ve become something of a quirky double act in the Strawberry Line District: Cheddar Man and Adrian Targett – also known as Cheddar Man. One is the skeleton of a late stone age man who lived in the caves of the famous Gorge around 7000BC – and the other is Kings of Wessex Academy teacher Adrian Targett who lives in Cheddar. The link is they have shared DNA – indeed Mr Targett is directly related though the female line to the ancient resident of the village. Recently the duo were again in the news when it was reported another relative claimed direct genetic links to the cave man. Craig Dent had travelled from Australia to meet his famous relative. The Cheddar Valley Gazette reported: “As Mr Dent stood beside the pit where his ancestor lies he said: ‘I also share the same DNA with Adrian. Though my paternal ancestors left the UK and arrived in Australia in 1860, my maternal ancestors left the UK and arrived in Australia in 1911. It is my maternal ancestors that link me with the Cheddar Man.’”

The story was fascinating – if a little over shadowed by Mr Dent’s desire to heap praise on a telephone directory company he used to trace his Cheddar


relative - the more you read the story the more it felt like an exercise in public relations. It’s an age old technique by companies – to attach a flimsy connection to their firm to a more interesting story – lampooned in Private Eye under Desperate Marketing. Underneath is an interesting story. Most of us can trace our family back to our grandparents and maybe Victorian times – but to trace them back before Roman Britain is extraordinary.

Are councils breaking the library act with cutbacks and closures?

Winscombe Library has recently reopened after a refit but if you’ve tried to go to Banwell library recently you will have had a shock - it’s closed. (It’s been replaced by visits from a mobile library.) North Somerset Council shut it to save money while in Somerset the county council looked to close Cheddar’s library a couple or so years back but a spirited community campaign fought off the threat of closure although nobody is convinced the powers that be in Taunton have completely given up on the idea. Money is short in local government and libraries are in the front line when it comes to savings - but are they breaking the law?

The 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act says: “a library authority shall in particular have regard to the desirability of securing, by the keeping of adequate stocks, by arrangements with other library authorities, and by any other appropriate means, that facilities are available for the borrowing of, or reference to, books and other printed matter, and pictures, gramophone records, films and other materials, sufficient in number, range and quality to meet the general requirements and any special requirements both of adults and children; and of encouraging both adults and children to make full use of the library service, and of providing advice as to its use and of making available such bibliographical and other information as may be required by persons using it.”

This was an exchange between Lord Greaves (Liberal Democrat) and Baroness Hanham (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Communities and Local Government; Conservative) over the issue of library funding. Greaves asked why funding was being cut back to local government to pay for libraries. The answer came: “Every bit of the public sector needs to help pay off the deficit by the last Administration.” The Baroness went on to say county councils were losing £2 billion a year from uncollected council tax, £2 billion from fraud and are sitting on £16 billion of reserves.

The Government stressed earlier this year that service was not in crisis following criticism of how libraries were being closed due to local Government cuts. They said: “The closure of one or even a number of library branches does not necessarily signify a breach of the 1964 Act.”

Public Libraries News put the number of libraries currently under threat of closure, or closed since April 2012, at 317 while the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals predicted that in 2013, more than 1,100 library staff will be lost, 1,720 opening hours a week will be cut and £22.5m will be cut from public library spending. For those who care about libraries and their value to communities as a form of social cohesion, a resource, a place to meet and a focus for activities – simply saying the deficit must be paid is not good enough. Libraries like post offices, village shops and pubs are what help to make a community – and without them we are surely much poorer.

Strawberry Line Times August 2013

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