Paul. A. Rabbitts    

Author, Parks Historian & Public Speaker


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Colleagues and Friends... past, present and future?

Posted on 27 March, 2016 at 0:50 Comments comments (0)

I have been called many things over the years, and latterly termed a Dull Man but its always been an issue what people think about me. I think we all want to be liked in some ways although I suppose some really don't care, but truth be known, it does matter to me what people think about me. I have never been one for having loads and loads of friends and going out with mates, or even been a party person, but a number of people mainly through work and Uni, have been with me for a long time. The new book out in June is dedicated to many of them who have shared work adventures and others beyon work. These are a few of them from the Boro..... such great times 

Dr Sue Antrobus - one of the most dynamic people I have worked with - Middlesbrough's former Wildspace Officer, now going great guns at Tees Valley Wildlife Trust

Dave Hodgson - former Principal Engineer at Middlesbrough - now a big wig at East Durham Homes

Eddie Jones - Middlesbrough's Mr Parks - I had the pleasure of working with him but probably best I never knew what he was up to!

Lis Airey - still saving trees in Co Durham

Mr. Richard Buckley and Emily Barrett - never knew what they got up to when my back was turned - back row as usual causing bother but both amazing at what they did. I think Richard is the only survivor but doing sporty stuff now, and as for Em... super mum after taking Staff Wildlife trust by storm. Stick collecting expert and Hobbycraft regular 

Tony Duggan -  best boss I ever had pictured with the gorgeous Susannah Clarke - Opera Singer

Geoff and Dick - dodgy dudes indeed

Andy White - let me build the biggest skate park ever

Jim Moody - one of the kindest colleagues I ever had

Sue Houghton - my first Boro boss - so reminds me of my current Watford boss

Mr Mackem - Alan Lawson - one of my fave people and funniest guy I have worked with

Matthew Smartt - always wondered what he was constantly smiling about

Peter Small - a fabulous fella who loves his ale

Pherenice Worsey Buck - one of the happiest people who I have worked with and now doing wonderful deeds in Bromley

Myself and Stuart Johnston - awards ceremony for Albert Park

Emma Watton - bloody lunatic - nuff said 

Be careful what you say! and to whom!!

Posted on 6 February, 2016 at 7:45 Comments comments (0)

This is a funny. 

I met a chap at work yesterday who I had never had the pleasure of meeting before who was keen to see whether we could work together on a project. He asked about the Cassiobury Park project in Watford and what it entailed and went on to describe the new Hub and the relocation of the bandstand back into the park. Of course he didn't know I have an obsession with them, so he went on to mention about the nutter he heard on Radio 2 a few weeks ago regaling the virtues of the bandstand on the Jeremy Vine show - said he was really good but a bit nuts. Hmmmm should have seen his face when I said that it was ME!!!!!! So funny. Nice bloke and actually very complimentary and loved what he does. 

I often tell the story of me becoming a Dull Man at the many WI talks too and its incredible how many have seen in the press, and they all remember the grass cutting guy. Bandstands far more interesting. But then I would say that as I'm a nutter. 

Crap towns?

Posted on 20 January, 2016 at 16:35 Comments comments (0)

Happy New Year everyone. Its now mid January and its cold, so cold and trying to stick to New Year resolutions. I am certainly spending more time on the train travelling into Watford. Which brings me onto the subject of this blog. Crap towns seems to have been a bit of a fashion over the last few years with bookshelves rammed with books on Crap Towns and Crap Towns 2 and lots of polls about the shittiest places to live in the UK. The latest is here . It lambasts the town of Luton. Now I don't live there, I have a Luton postcode but live out in Leighton Buzzard. I have been to Luton and indeed spent some time doing some work for Luton Borough Council assessing their parks and open spaces. My daughter has competed in Luton and I have flown from Luton airport. I have visited the large asian area with my daughter to buy asian goodies. Do I like the place? not really, but then I don't like Manchester or Aylesbury or Wycombe or Hull or Hemel Hempstead or Margate, but thats just an opinion based on fleeting visits. I lived in Carlisle for 8 years - not my favourite town, but happy times there, I lived in Darlington for 10 years, loved the place but amazingly many think it a dull grey town. I worked for 8 years in Middlesbrough, now thats a town that is always top of the crap leagues and is a brutalist looking town. When I moved to Watford, many said, uuurghhhh what a place to go to, its like Luton. 

So whats the point of this rambling. Over 210,000 people live in Luton. Its a growing town with a lot of issues that it contends with. I am sure many of these Luton-ites would love to live in Tunbridge Wells, St Aban's, Harrogate, Wokingham, Winchester, Bath, Cambridge and such like but the fact is they don't. Many can't. If it wasn't for towns like Luton, Middlesbrough, Hull, Stockton on Tees, Barrow in Furness, Scunthorpe, Wolverhampton, Walsall, we wouldn't have towns like Harrogate, Wokingham et al. Industrial centres, the powerhouse of our economies over hundreds of years, and as those industries decline, what they leave behind are often communities that are unable to move. I am sure disgusted of Tunbridge Wells would love to see fields and lanes built over to house the mass growing population of many of our former industrial centres. Back to Luton, the heart of the British car industry and we haven't got much left now have we!!, great parks - Wardown and Stockwood are superb, an international airport that really is one of the best I have flown from. It is a grey gritty town. Middlesbrough, now I worked there for years. A hellish place I thought, but went back last year. Yes, many problems but it has such icons of industry, the transporter bridge, one of the most impressive town halls you will ever see, wonderful parks such as Albert Park and Stewart Park. Again, a former powerhouse of industry evolving, struggling, urban, gritty. 

So, the point of these ridiculous surveys - do we really give a shit. Why? (1) not everyone has a choice where they live, (2) people who live there, born and brought up there actually do like living there (3) those who bash towns like Luton are not from Luton so butt out (4) be thankful we have towns like Luton, Middlesbrough etc, as they have made this country; (5) bashing towns is demoralising, despite intense Tory cuts from this incumbent governement we are stuck with, Borough Councils and the staff within and agencies who live and work here, are firecely loyal and work damned hard so some ass-hole stupid poll really is not helpful (6) and if every town was like Oxford where no one can afford to live and work and thats a town at crisis point where nurses, bus drivers and teachers cannot be retained here because they cannot afford the properties - what kind of community does that create?? So leave Luton alone and don't even bring immigration into it. 

Merry Christmas from a Grumpy man and roll on 2016

Posted on 23 December, 2015 at 9:20 Comments comments (0)

So sat listening to yet another Xmas song on the radio - its on all the time in the office (John Lennon / Yoko Ono seems most popular). I always start feeling festive around about now. I hate the shopping aspect of it and the blind panic in people's faces. Its one day of the year. Anyway, people off, emails down to single figures and looking forward to a few things:-


  • Time off - a long break in between as we close down at WBC so its about a week off in total
  • Time with the family too. Walking my adorable dog
  • Enjoying my new house - having just moved to a fabulous 1840s house with so much space, I have not had a lot of time to enjoy it
  • Time to start a new book too - Book No. 9 is developing too
  • Time to draw up my bucket list for 2016. I didn't do one for 2015 and regret it as it was my 50th year
So what kind of year has it been? Not one to dwell on the negatives, its been a challenging one with illness I have not coped with too well and knocked a whole chunk out of the summer. This helped - worth a look and sent to me by a friend, and I read this too which was brilliant. A short stay in holiday too on another issue was agonising. Mrs R hasn't been too well either but again, on the mend. The moving house was hell and I will never do myself ever again.
But a year that brought many lovely new memories - a fantastic holiday in Italy (Umbria / Tuscany) - Siena, Florence, Cortona, Pisa were simply incredible. The house we had was idyllic. We found Charlie, our amazing 6 year old Westie from Battersea Dogs Home who has changed our home totally. We absolutely love him. I had my 50th birthday - it passed quietly but glad I have reached the milestone. We moved to New Road and whilst horrendously expensive to rent, it is a wonderful house and home. My children have excelled and exceeded this year. Ashley at Greenwich Uni and Holly at Middlesex Uni, both now in year 2  and I am so so proud of them. Then my youngest Ellie moved to Upper School and she too is just excelling. Sports and music is her thing and she just keeps on running. Again so proud of her.

So to move on to 2016 - whats ahead? Looking forward to my 8th book being published in June, Cassiobury Park Restoration on site, Bandstands projects taking off, seeing my kids succeed, better health - running again in January ! - less stress - hence the running, back to Mallorca this year, more train journeys to work rather than sitting in traffic, Nandos with the family ( I do like a Nandos), seeing ELO in April at the O2, and so much more I hope.

Don't get stressed this Christmas, enjoy the time off, its only one day. Enjoy Downton Abbey on Christmas Day.... and remember, "Don't let the bells end"



Being Dull.....

Posted on 28 October, 2015 at 9:25 Comments comments (0)

The definition of being dull - "uninteresting, boring, tedious, tiresome, wearisome, flat and bland" - to name but a few. Apparently I am one of Great Britain's Dullest Men, according to a new book out of the very same name. To tell the story, a took a call from a very interesting American fella called Leland Carlson who a couple of years back did a calendar on Britain's Dullest Men and it sold so well, he decided on a book and felt I should be in it because of the bandstand fetish. Hilariously I agreed after chatting to him and actually getting where he was coming from. Its all about celebrating the ordinary - querky eccentricities indeed as not all of us guys want to climb mountains, bedeck ourselves in garish lycra and ride £2,000+ bikes every weekend or run marathons every weekend (with Xmas off). Nope, not for me as I am far more interested in what many people class as dull. I am in great company - hoover collectors, traffic cone man, grass cutting diary man, follies man, WW1 tank man - great company. Are we all dull? nope, just a tad odd but its what makes us all so British and thats whats so important. Being dull did get me in a few odd places when the book was launched:-


  • Middle page of The Sun
  • Daily Mail
  • Daily Telegraph
  • Daily Mirror
  • Chris Evans BBC Radio 2 name checked
  • A live interview with Jeremy Vine on BBC Radio 2
  • A live interview on BBC 3 Counties Radio - twice
  • Feature in the Leighton Buzzard Observer
  • Featured on Have I got News for You with my picture popping up
  • Various websites too numerous to mention
It was all so much fun and the book itself is just so funny. So am I dull? probably but I really don't care. A few links below!!


Blogs a bit thin on the ground!

Posted on 14 September, 2015 at 18:00 Comments comments (0)

Ah, as thin as the hair on my ever decreasing mop top, lots to write about but just haven't got around to it. Jeez a lot has happened over the last few weeks. What is going on in this mad world. 

Personally, a short spell in hospital, gory details spared, but time to think. Then a wonderful time in Italy. A week in Umbria and Tuscany. My, the Italians have it right, they really don't give a damn - so relaxed and chilled, wonderful community spirit among the people, stunning landscapes and Siena and Florence a sight I won't forget. Truly memorable. The place we stayed at was remote, 1.5km up a mountain track and you could not hear a thing apart from the breeze. I could have stayed there forever. A return home through Dunstable late Saturday night brought it all back to reality - drunks, emergency services attempting to cope, fast food on hand and taxis meandering among the vomit plastered streets. 

And back to work. And back to life. Refugees, riots, left wing Labour returns, Chelsea in deep trouble, a house move imminent and a the longest reigning monarch ever in this courageous country we call home. 

So where to from here? Book No. 8 halfway through with funding from Veolia and Green Flag, Great British Parks will indeed by a visual celebration of some lovely parks we have so carefully restored. A meeting lined up with Historic England to discuss a few more books too, Decimus Burton still needs doing as does a full monograph on bandstands and a new comprehensive history of public parks. The house move is giving us a spare bedroom so a man cave is developing in my head and places to store the immense collection of vinyl and growing daily, a collection of some lovely books. 

Student children have returned south so closer to home again, white dog is in control of the black dog and a new iPhone too is out. Upgrade due. And the big milestone is just around the corner, 50 in October. 26th to be precise. It was meant to be a year of achievements this year but as the hamster sits gazing at me wistfully (I think thats how he gazes), it hasn't quite panned out like that, so the 50th becomes more important and a new Apple MacBook would be a suitable compensation. Donations greatfully welcome. 

And to finish this rambling blog, I met up with Mr Bryn Jones (sounds Welsh...but he's Irish with a hint of Brazilian) in Huddersfield the other week who I haven't seen in about 4-5 years and it was a pleasure to see him again. People really do matter (so does a new MacBook too!!)

Writers Block? No way

Posted on 10 July, 2015 at 19:00 Comments comments (0)

Its out at last - seems like months since I finished this and in essence it was. Hyde Park - The People's Park is just lovely. Interestingly a number of friends and colleagues said, "it aint the peoples park, Victoria Park was in Tower Hamlets" - yet Grimsby has a People's Park too and there are others too. Yet in essence, ALL parks are people's parks, they belong to everybody. Hyde Park was the Royal Park that became the people's park. 

So whats next? 20 years of HLF funding and restoration of amazing parks. Time to celebrate this with a new book - Book no 8 with stunning photographs and more. Writers block? Its been too long since I wrote and need to get back into it. Book No 9? Bandstands a Social History? As for double figures - thats the challenge. No writers block here and as for parks - they are all parks for the people. 

PS please buy my books!!!

Sunny Days and Balmy Nights

Posted on 5 June, 2015 at 19:05 Comments comments (0)

Terrific few days here in Leighton Buzzard with sunny evening walks with Charlie and rest of the family. I have discovered areas of the neighbourhood I didn't know existed. The joys of having a dog I suppose. This brings me on to a link someone shared with friends and myself on Facebook about "a black dog" which I had never seen before. It resonated very much with me as for a number of months had not been feeling myself and could not understand why - I have never suffered with my health and certainly have never considered that I may be suffering depression - see I can admit it. Watching this was a turning point - see link below - and its just brilliant. My black dog never truly got hold because I dealt with it but its a horrible feeling - truly horrible and I still don't understand why I felt like this. But hey ho, many many of us do. I haven't really spoken about but the black dog doesn't control me - watch the clip and you will get this. Now having a white dog in my life, it was something Ellie said to me on having had Charlie a week - the effect a dog can have on you emotionally, the eye contact and the impact of being "mans best friend" - I don't know where she read it but it too had an impact. White dog wins. So what am i saying? White dogs are better than black dogs? nope! Don't be ashamed of how you feel. We are only human after all.

What no blog in 4 weeks???

Posted on 19 May, 2015 at 16:40 Comments comments (0)

I must have been distracted or just simply busy. Both!! In the last 4 weeks I have:-


  • Packed in the PhD - it was becoming too much sadly in relation to time commitment;
  • Acquired a dog for the first time;
  • Submitted an application to Companes House for my Community Interest Company - Pavilions for Music CIC;
  • Launched 
  • Tolerated apalling performances from Newcastle Utd - nothing new there, I should be used to it;
  • Visited many bandstands; 
  • Attended several athletics meetings with youngest daughter who performs well for Leighton Buzzard Athletics Club; and
  • Investigated 3 new potential books. 
So busy and distracted. I must admit the highlight is getting a dog - after months of saying NO!!! our daughter finally ground us down and we agreed to look at getting a Westie and so in short - Charlie arrived from Battersea Dogs Home and he has completely changed everything, for the better. I haven't had a dog since I was 14 years old and he has so reminded me of what it was like. Naturally he has been introduced to bandstands and didn't cock his leg!! 

So a busy 4 weeks and likely to get busier, and I didn't even mention the General Election. 


Premiership Champions? Liverpool?

Posted on 16 April, 2015 at 18:40 Comments comments (1)

Had a really good trip to Liverpool last weekend, sorted last minute and with a view to get away but also to sneak a look at 4 bandstands I knew were there - Newsham Park (see Bad bandstands), Sefton Park, Derby Park in Bootle and Stanley Park - all in beautiful bandstands. Saturday was spent wandering around Matthew Street and the Beatles bits - Cavern Club looked rowdy, then a wander up to the Cultural Quarter. Its a magnificent city. Sunday it poured down but this was the bandstand tour. Sefton Park is immense and the Palmhouse is just a fabulous work of art and a restoration beyond recognition. I loved it. As for the bandstand, I scrambled over the bridge to the island bandstand, looking a little bit worn but a great colour scheme. Stanley Park - after a swift look round the outside of Anfield for the Mrs! - stunning, just stunning. The Conservatory restoration is outstanding. Go visit it. Next was Newsham Park - the other side of Liverpool and a park that has had the heart ripped out of it. Truly awful and I must admit I didn't feel safe. 

Derby Park in Bootle I almost broke my neck climbing the fence to get onto it. I still have the war wounds, but it was worth the pain. 

So all in all, 3 great bandstands, one just a shameful wreck, but I came away feeling rather sad and somewhat cheated. I love Liverpool, I supported them as a child, I got my pilots licence at Cheshire Air Training School at Liverpool Airport and it has tremendous parks and buildings. But behind much of it is extreme poverty, hardship, social problems that seem out of control but such buoyant people. I do love the scouse humour. Governemnt afte government, local and national politicians have failed - the system has failed and it is cities like Liverpool where it is felt most. I saw it in Middlesbrough and I saw it here. But I mention this to a dear scouse friend from St. Helens who simply says "don't be sad, be inspired" and she was totally right. Be inspired. It was an inspirational city and  can't wait to go back. 

Newsham Park Entrance

Derelict Lights

The bandstand as it was

The bandstand today

Sefton Park Palmhouse

Inside the Palmhouse

Andre Le Notre