Peter Chowney face in subdued light

This blog is by Peter Chowney, former Labour leader of Hastings Council, resident of Maze Hill, St Leonards on Sea, UK, finally retiring from the council in May 2022. Also a former microbiologist, a keen gardener, chicken keeper, and classic car owner. It serves no particular purpose, beyond entertainment, debate and constructive comment. You don’t need to be registered to comment, but if you do, please make sure it’s constructive. Click on the post title to comment.

Garden Secrets: My Life as a Great Dixter Volunteer.

Great Dixter house with colourful floral bedding in foreground
Great Dixter house from the Long Border

When I retired as a councillor last May, I contacted Fergus Garrett, the Head Gardener and Chief Executive at Great Dixter to ask if I could work there for a day a week as a volunteer. I knew Fergus, albeit not that well, from my work as Hastings Council leader. He told me to just turn up the following Tuesday. When I did, no-one had any idea that I was expected, but when I said Fergus had told me to come, they sighed and gave me a form to fill in. And so my career as a Dixter gardening volunteer began. It’s been at times wet, cold, tedious, repetitive, hard, and tiring.  But it’s been hugely enjoyable. Here’s an account of the Dixter way of the world, how the place runs, and what I’ve learned.

Continue reading “Garden Secrets: My Life as a Great Dixter Volunteer.”

A Year At Dixter

As a volunteer at Great Dixter Garden, in Northiam, East Sussex, I have been taking a weekly picture of the long border, since August 2022, with the aim of completing a whole year of weekly pictures taken from the same place.  I’ve missed a couple of weeks (when it snowed, for example, and couldn’t get there, and over Christmas) but the record is pretty much complete, and I’ll keep adding to it each week. You can see the pictures as a slide show below.

What Watson and Crick Were On About: How the Genetic Code is Decoded

Black and White photograph of Watson and Crick considering their DNA model, one standing and pointing, the other sitting.
Watson and Crick with their original model (

The double helix structure of Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid (DNA) was established in 1953, in a paper published by James Watson and Francis Crick, working at the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University. In this post, I’ve provided a beginner’s guide to genetics, with a fairly simple outline of how the genetic code carried on DNA is translated into a human, or indeed any other living organism. Continue reading “What Watson and Crick Were On About: How the Genetic Code is Decoded”

What Has Covid Ever Done for Us? The Rise of RNA Vaccines in Cancer Treatment

Mediaeval drawing of man and helpers offering a drink to another near supine dying man

The Covid pandemic has been devastating for the world, with 6.8 million deaths. In the UK, 206,000 people have died from Covid-related causes. As pandemics go, it’s by no means the worst. The 1918 flu pandemic killed 20-50 million people, and the Black Death, caused by the bubonic plague bacterium, killed around 75-200 million people, or around half the world’s population. What was different about Covid was the development of vaccines, in particular RNA vaccines. And with that development of RNA vaccines came a new possibility: a cure for cancer. In this blog post, I’ll try to explain what RNA vaccines are, how they work, and why they could be the key to creating bespoke treatments for cancer.

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For the Love of Cars: The Politics of Personal Transport

Messerchmitt KR 200, red three wheeled car.
My first car: Messerschmitt KR200

I have a confession to make: I have always loved cars. From my first Messerschmitt KR200 three-wheeler when I was sixteen to the ‘extended range EV’ Vauxhall Ampera I have now, I’ve pretty much always had one. Cars have played an important role in the liberation of the working class, and the broadening of working people’s horizons. But can we continue to justify the use of personal transport as we battle to tackle climate change? Does the motor car, whether fuelled by petrol or electricity, still have a role? Continue reading “For the Love of Cars: The Politics of Personal Transport”

Why I Remained in the Labour Party. And Why I Left.


Selection of Labour election materials, badges, leaflets and rosettes, laid out on a floor

It’s March 1981, and I’m in a tower block lift in Isleworth that smells of wee and despondency. I have just spent a fruitless hour canvassing for the GLC elections, for a local candidate whose name I can’t remember. Not a single person even answered their door.

And that was my introduction to the Labour Party, having just joined, enthused by the thought that Labour could take control of the Greater London Council and bring in some genuinely socialist policies. Continue reading “Why I Remained in the Labour Party. And Why I Left.”

Through a Glass Darkly? Gambles and Barriers in the Vaccination Programme

Scientist holding a vial of the Pfizer vaccine
Photo: U.S. Secretary of Defense, CC BY 2.0,

The vaccination programme is finally being rolled out, which can only be good news. Here in Hastings, we were off to a slow start, with the public vaccination programme not getting underway till January 4th. But although we’re by no means the world’s fastest nation at getting the vaccination into recipients, it’s good to see the UK, for once, pretty quick off the mark. But is the decision to give only one dose and delay the booster dose the right thing to do?  And with this ’one dose’ strategy, can we guarantee anywhere near the two million vaccinations a week that the government has promised?

Continue reading “Through a Glass Darkly? Gambles and Barriers in the Vaccination Programme”

The Christmas Tree: How to Keep it Green

Two Christmas trees planted in the garden, a large one in the background smaller in the foreground.
Two generations of Christmas tree: in the foreground, the tree just planted out. Behind it, one planted five years ago.

There’s been a bit of discussion recently about Christmas trees. It’s the season for it.  But this year, the debates have been around sustainability, and whether it’s better to get a real tree, which you’re cutting down and chucking away, or an artificial tree, that’s (probably) made from plastic derived from fossil fuels.

When put on the spot with the ‘what kind of tree do you have’ question, I described what I did. They suggested I put it on the blog.  So here it is.

Continue reading “The Christmas Tree: How to Keep it Green”