Wednesday, 31 December 2008

My predictions for Bath in 2009

This is an edited version of my column from the Bath Chronicle printed on January 1 2009

Bath's crystal ball....

It is time, once again, for me to delve into my crystal ball and wonder what the year ahead will mean to Bath . I have done my Nostradamus act in my Bath Chronicle column for two or three years now and had a pretty good ‘success rate’ at predicting things to be honest.
That is with one major exception.
So, let me start there.
For the past two years I have predicted that the arguments about The Rec would be solved and we would finally have a decision about the permanent home of Bath Rugby. And on both occasions I have been wrong.
Well, adopting the totally unproven theory of ‘third time lucky’ I am going to do it again.
For I am now more confident than ever that another Christmas will not pass before we know for definite where Bath Rugby will finally be able to lay their hat.
There has been much to-ing and fro-ing behind the scenes and I detect that we are within touching distance of a decision. My head and my heart still wants Bath Rugby to stay at The Rec but if there is even a hint of any more long-term delays, I think they should move – simple as that.
The club needs to secure its position once and for all – and I am predicting that in 2009 it will do so.Still with Bath Rugby I am also predicting even more good things on the pitch. Our newly crowned Chronicle Team of the Year had a fantastic 2008 and are rightly seen as the most entertaining team in club rugby in the UK.
Next year we would love to see them win another trophy – either a league title or cup, I am, not fussy – and I am predicting they will do so. Still with sport, I am confident TeamBath will secure a play-off spot in their league and don’t rule out a late surge from Bath City either. They have been a bit inconsistent in recent months but when they are good they are very good, and don’t be surprised if they make a charge into the play-offs in the months to come.
Away from the sporting field, I think no one is denying that 2009 could be a very tough year for our city in economic terms. Dire warning follows dire warning on the national news programmes, but Bath has a lot of its business infrastructure right and also has the spirit and the management skills to really hit back. We will be launching our own campaign shortly to lead that fight but no one should deny that 2009 will see a fair bit of upheaval.
Above all, we will all need to keep our nerve . . .
What will help Bath is that there are a couple of major improvements to the city which will come to fruition. SouthGate will open its doors for the first phase of shops in the autumn (and I predict it may even be earlier, looking at the speed of the work being done) and before then we will see the new bus station up and running. The debate about the ‘busometer’ will grow again at that time I imagine, but I predict few will be disappointed with the station which should be first class.
Elsewhere I believe that the longest running Bath soap opera – the Western Riverside project – will FINALLY begin. There have been more stops and starts than in a tennis match over this, but I believe we are tantalisingly close to the end of the fifth set now, and I am predicting that in 2009, the Bath Western Riverside project will kick off. I am also pretty certain that despite the fantastic community-led opposition to it, the Bath Transportation Package will also hit the road but I wouldn’t rule out some late compromises to try to bring more of the public on board.
So there is my snapshot of 2009 predictions. I believe the year will be economically tough but on the plus side, The Rec will be sorted, Western Riverside will begin, SouthGate will open, we will have a great new bus station and our main sports teams will all have something to cheer about. See, 2009 doesn’t look so bad now, does it?
Happy New Year everyone......

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

'Offensive' shoe boxes? Baah humbug!

This is an edited version of my Bath Chronicle comment of December 24.

It is one of the most cherished Christmas traditions that at this time of the year we try to think of people less fortunate than ourselves.

That is why, even with all the frantic spending that people do at Christmas, they can usually still find time to support the many charities that go into overdrive with street collections and appeals throughout our town centres.

It is, after all, the season of goodwill to all men – but not everybody, it seems, admires every charitable act on offer.

In the Chronicle this week we feature a letter which we have given considerable space to (out of respect of the writer’s opinion) which I really do feel is wrong on many levels.

It has been a tradition for a number of years in this office – and others I have worked at as well as schools that my family members have attended – to encourage people to fill a shoe box full of goodies to send to needy children throughout the world.

The biggest such shoe box organisation is called Operation Christmas Child and they have so far managed to present boxes full of toys, sweets and a genuine dollop of seasonal love to some 60 million boys and girls in just under 20 years.

That is a truly remarkable, inspiring figure and the genuine enthusiasm that we see from people – including very small children – towards supporting this cause is one of those Christmas traditions I hope will stay around for a long time.

But of course you could always wonder what actually happens when those lovingly put together boxes leave your home and head abroad. So, this year, one of our young reporters, Dena Cook, volunteered to join the group who were distributing many of the thousands of boxes from Bath & Wiltshire to see the effect our little bit of charity work has on people.And if the effect is the same as the one it had on Dena, then I’m sure it was humbling.

We saw Dena the day after she returned at our Christmas party and she found it difficult to talk about anything other than what she’d seen. The poverty she encountered in Serbia took her by surprise but she was hugely moved by the genuine appreciation shown by the young recipients as they received their boxes of British love.

Today, however, one of our letter writers opposite portrays Operation Christmas Child as being ‘extremely worrying’ and ‘offensive’ and criticises us for giving it such positive publicity.

The writer’s considered and well-thought out argument is that Operation Christmas Child is a Christian charity which has Christian aims. She quotes from a website that says this means that they are using the appeal to evangelise to young, vulnerable children throughout the world.

I will leave the fact that evangelism is not actually a crime to one side but would state categorically that our reporter (who is not a Christian) says she saw no evidence whatsoever of any attempt by the organisers to ‘convert’ those receiving gifts. The young children – most of whom couldn’t even speak English – were not there for Sunday school teaching, they were there to receive a gift of love donated to them by people thousands of miles away. These boxes were donated by people of all faiths (and none) and delivered to children of all faiths (and none). There was nothing ‘sinister’ going on here and all those involved deserve respect not condemnation.

So, and it seems especially poignant as this time of the year, I think we should acknowledge and support everyone for their charity work – and yes, that very much includes those men and women of faith. If it is Christians organising charities like this then I say good for them – they are after all merely enacting the basic Christian message that we love each other.

Of course a small box is only going to give a temporary respite to a needy child but as the advert says ‘every little helps’. And, according to Dena, help it really did. Those boxes gave hope where there had previously been none.

So, I for one say well done to everyone from this remarkable charity – and to everyone in the Bath region who has generously supported their work. May they continue to do so for a long time.

Happy Christmas.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Why sat navs are naughty - but nice

This is an edited version of my column from the Bath Chronicle on December 18

I suspect that this time next week many people (mostly men) will be opening their Christmas presents and discovering that they have been bought that wonderful new piece of technology we call the ‘sat nav’.

I have been the owner of three of these modern day miracles over the past couple of years and heartily recommend them as a very good present indeed.


Those of you who are new to a satellite navigation system will soon discover that these clever little machines are just like small children – when they’re good they are very good but when they are bad, they can be awful. Allow me to give you a recent, pertinent example.

Last Thursday I attended a very enjoyable meal with my colleagues from our excellent newspapers, the Somerset Standard and the Somerset Guardian. The meal was in Buckland Dinham, somewhere I thought I knew pretty well and the venue (The Bell) was the same as for last year’s meal so finding it shouldn’t have been a problem. However, as is often the case for those of us who live by deadlines, I was running late.

If I went my ‘normal’ route I thought I may arrive a few minutes after the first course had been served so I decided to do what I have done on a number of other occasions and put on my sat nav in the hope that he/she (yes we do tend to personalise them), would know an alternative, quicker route to get me to the soup on time. I did this because there have been instances in the past where my sat nav has shown me hitherto undiscovered routes to get where I would normally go and thus I tend to trust its judgement.

So, I put the words Buckland Dinham into my sat nav, popped a CD into the player and waited for my sat nav to surprise me. Well it did – it surprised me by doubling (or was that tripling?) my journey time and nearly taking me to the fine city of Wells. Needless to say, the soup ended up being poured away.

You may wonder why I just didn’t give up when I realised my mechanical map was taking me in the wrong direction but the truth is, as every sat nav user will testify, they do on occasions take you what appears to be ‘off road’ but ultimately still get you where you want to be quicker than you imagined. So, on my tortuous drive through the dark streets of Somerset, I kept abusing my sat nav (and yes you do tend to do that), but I still secretly thought it had a cunning plan up its sleeve. I ignored the voices in my head that said ‘this sat nav is an idiot’ and ploughed on regardless until the thought that I probably wouldn’t get my main course in Wells Cathedral overtook me and I just abandoned my electrical assistance and went, as I should have done in the first place – by ‘my’ route.

I could relate other instances of the previously unknown condition of ‘sat nav rage’ (for instance, once in London it told me to turn right at a point which would have made me plough into a shop window), but the truth is, just like the small child I mentioned earlier, these amazing little gizmos do come up trumps far more often than they let you down. As well as usually getting you places ahead of time and keeping you informed of your progress every step of the way, they are also a pleasant companion as you are travelling along. As I get into a car before a big journey I often say say soothing words like “don’t let me down today” and I have been known to actually thank my moving map at the end of a stress-free trip.

So if you do unwrap a sat nav next week then I hope it goes on to give you plenty of happy driving experiences and becomes a real friend in the car.

But please don’t ask it to take you to Buckland Dinham . . .

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Confessions of a failed sports fan

This is an edited version of my column in the Bath Chronicle of December 11

It struck me on Sunday night that if I could just change one tiny letter in a description of myself it would make my life so much more complete. All I would need to do is substitute the letter ‘m’ for the letter ‘f’ in the following sentence; Sam Holliday is a great sports fan.

The reason this thought hit me at the weekend was because I was invited to attend the fantastic BBC (at-its-best) Sports Personality of the Year Awards for the west area, held at the University of Bath. I shared the same room with Olympic medallists, great footballers, some of the biggest names in rugby and racing and many of our greatest Paralympians as we honoured what has been an incredible year of sporting achievement by local people.

And if ever you needed proof of just how highly our city is regarded in the sporting world, the commendable decision to host these prestigous awards at our brilliant TeamBath campus said it all.

But, rather like being asked to judge the final of the world’s sexiest man, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat inadequate in the presence of such masters of their art, and I did drive home thinking miserably about my own bumbling sporting ‘pedigree’.

OK, so I did manage to play for my school at rugby (I was one of those big guys desperately trying to hide from the action in the second row) but football was my true love and in this particular sporting field the word ‘Failure’ has been stamped very clearly on my life report. I would love to have been an accomplished footballer but only one small thing held me back – talent.

Despite the fact that in all truth my two left feet both had left feet, I was always desperate to play the game whenever I could, and I thought I had my big break at the age of just 21 when I was invited to be the player-manager of a struggling Sunday league outfit.

I was, at the time, the sports editor of my local paper and I think I was asked because some people fell for that old (and sadly misguided) idea that because you write about sport you might actually have an idea how to play it. (If you want further proof of this absolutely NOT being the case, you are welcome to visit our sports desk any day you wish!)

But, when offered a player- manager’s role I ignored the voice in my head that said ‘don’t’ and went for it. After all it worked for Dalglish, Gullit and Hoddle for a while, so why not me? Surely this was my chance to shine as a boss like my huge hero Brian Clough (pictured above)? The way I saw it, I could now pick myself for every game, I could play whatever position I wanted and my hitherto undiscovered ball skills would (finally) be realised and appreciated by the unsuspecting public.

The reality was being player-manager meant all I had to do was get all the hassle, pay everybody else’s subs and (worse of all), not even get a place in the staring X1 because my fellow players vetoed me out of it.I am as sick as a parrot to admit it was a total nightmare.

Of course, this doesn’t mean I won’t keep yearning for a change in my fortunes and unlike many famous footballers/rugby players (Josh Lewsey being the latest this week), I will never officially resign from international sport.

Just in case.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Bath's women do the business!

Those of you who remember the first series of Pop Idol can probably recall that cringe making moment when Darius walked into the room where all his fellow contestants were gathered and said "there's so much love in this room".

Well on Friday I went to the Bath Spa Hotel and to misquote Darius, I felt "there is so much talent in this room" as I helped to present prizes at the Bath Business Women's Associations first ever annual awards.

I already knew I was in the presence of some formidably talented ladies as I helped to judge the competition which gave some of Bath's brightest and most innovative business women a change to shine.

I have been lucky enough over the years to judge many competitions - from pet shows to beauty pageants - and it is never easy to pick winners from a lot of deserving cases and this instance was particularly difficult as Bath and surrounding areas has a multitude of very talented female business leaders covering a wide variety of different professions.

From photographers to life coaches and from magicians to undertakers, we saw a plethora of top class entries and to just pick a handful of award winners was not easy.

In the end however, I'm sure all the judges felt as I did that we had chosen a pretty impressive group of winners including Celia Mannings, Tessa Kirby, Beverley Lee, Amanda Farrell, the multi-faceted and multi-talented Loraine Morgan-Brinkhurst and our overall winner, the much admired and thoroughly deserving victor, funeral director Carol Spalding.

All the winners were on hand to receive their awards at the Bath Spa Hotel in one of the best conducted and enjoyable awards dinners I've been to. This owed much to the hard work of the Bath Business Women's Association's committee (pictured above) - chaired this year by the lovely Alice Ellis who I usually only see in her Stocking Tops! - and of course the Fab! team who are so good at these kind of events. Their input was not only via their excellent organisational skills but they also had the ever charming and enthusiastic Julie Cooper, herself deservedly shortlisted for a top award.

So a splendid afternoon was had by all and it was proof, if ever proof was needed, that Bath has a formidable amount of top quality women in business.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Telling the world (well, Bath!!) about our blogs

This is a (slightly edited) copy of the article I have written for the Bath Chronicle and which is printed on Thursday, December 4.
If you are here because you actually read that article - which is of course about blogging - then welcome aboard!!!!
Please click left to follow the blog...

At the Chronicle we pride ourselves on being very innovative and ahead of the game. As you may be aware, we were the first newspaper in Britain (and possibly much further afield than that) to convert from being a paid-for daily title to a paid-for weekly one.

Our reward for such imagination is that we were made the Newspaper of the Year last week as you may have seen elsewhere on this blog. (I am pictured above picking up the award with my deputy Paul Wiltshire - on the left - and the President of the Newspaper Society Michael Pelosi in the centre).

However, this week our latest innovation isn’t something that has made us the first in the world because there are already an estimated, ahem, 112 million people who have got there ahead of us.

For this week I and my Chronicle colleagues have finally entered the curious world of the blogosphere.

We have today unveiled on our website six different blogs written by staff members at the Chronicle including of course this one. I aim to use the blog not only to put all of my printed columns/comments online but also to write things during the course of the week about events or people within the city I would like to talk about.

I do hope some of you may get the chance to pop in to all the Chronicle blogs at

Of course, getting noticed in blogsville is hard in reality as there is a blog (and blogging genre) for just about every subject imaginable – and many you probably couldn’t imagine in the first place. Just a bit of ferreting around enabled me to discover the following type of blogs – linklogs, tumblelogs, phlogs, moblogs, spamblogs, bananablogs, warblogs and sketchblogs And trust me, only one of those is invented. (It's bananas by the way!!)

Of course (as ever), by hosting these blogs the internet is only replicating what we’ve always done in ‘real’ life. Diary writing in print has been a tradition in this country for centuries and has spawned many classic pieces of work. It also spawned many lesser works of great art (!) such as my own rambling diaries which I enthusiastically kept between the ages of 15 and 23.

On the rare occasions I flick through those yellowing pages, I’m really glad I didn’t succumb to the temptation to throw them away as I got older because they really do offer a unique insight into a period of your life.

The last time I dipped into them I was amazed at both how much and, conversely, how little I had changed.

Many of the opinions I had at the age of 16 or 17 have stayed with me, but at other times, I read words I had written about the person I was and wondered ‘just who is this guy?’

So, as I now enter the blogosphere, I hope it will act as a modern-day diary of my life in and around the city which I’ll be able to look back on with the same fondness as I now regard The Secret Diaries Of Sam Holliday Age 17 3/4.

Happy blogging.

Monday, 1 December 2008

The winners - including TWO men called Paul Wiltshire!

This is the Chronicle staff today celebrating our recent win as the best weekly newspaper in Britain. It is a challenging time at the mo for all newspapers so to be able to all have a smile is good news all round.
I say 'smile' but I have a decidely strange look on my face (I am seated second left). They say the camera doesn't lie but perhaps it can be economical with the truth?
Failing that I just look odd.
Incidentally I am in what can only be described as a 'Paul Wiltshire sandwich'. Due to very bad planning both our ad director and our deputy editor are called Paul Wiltshire which makes life very confusing.
Paul Wiltshire is pictured left.
And right.
Also seated is our MD Sarah Irvine. Rumours she is planning to change her name to Paul Wiltshire are being hotly denied......

Friday, 28 November 2008

The best in Britain!

I have just returned from Leeds clutching a trophy and certificate which 'proves' something I truly believe - that the Bath Chronicle is the best weekly newspaper in the UK.

Along with my deputy editor Paul Wiltshire and three of our colleagues from our sister papers in Clevedon and Weston we made the mammoth trek 'up north' to attend the Newspaper Society's annual Weekly Newspaper Awards. We had entered the Chronicle into the section of 'Best Paid For Weekly Title in the South West and Wales' and would have been thrilled just to win that competitive award - but what do you know, we did even better!

For, after duly winning that regional title - against great newspapers like The North Devon Journal and The Western Gazette - we were then automatically shortlisted for the overall national title. And what do you know (again) - we won that too. So the Bath Chronicle is now officially the best weekly newspaper in Britain.

Without trying to sound too smug (what do you mean too late for that mate), I have to say it feels fantastic.

I know that awards are sometimes more important to your own industry than to the public at large but anything that puts Bath in the forefront nationally should get all our votes. And because of what we did last night the country now knows that as well as having the best city in the UK we also have THE best newspaper.

I am delighted for all my fellow staff members in every department here in Chronicle Towers who have made this happen. It is a tribute to them all - and also a tribute to all our readers for their loyalty since switching from daily production. Hopefully they can all feel smug as well for helping us achieve this goal.

Not even Billy Bremner had that much fun in Leeds.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

The wonder of Woolies. . . .

I am sure I am not alone in feeling very sad about the news today that Woolworth's - a truly great 'British' institution - is in serious financial trouble.

At a time of deepening economic gloom to lose one of the best known and best loved names from our High Streets is very worrying - especially as it nationally employs 25,000 loyal staff members who have worked hard to keep 'the wonder of Woolies' alive for so many years, not least in our own local store in Moreland Road.

Like most people I guess I have very fond memories of this great store which was once an invaluable source of records, books, paper, endless cheap and cheerful presents and toys and of course the somewhat brand-defining Pic n Mix. It is a store which in my mind is tinged with happy memories and one for which I have enormous respect.

Sadly, however, the last time I popped into Woolies I had a horrible sense that it was a shop that was living on those memories and simply hadn't moved with the times. It was not just that it felt as if it hadn't entered the 21st century - it almost felt like it hadn't even left the 1970s. Other shops were doing what it once excelled in better (and even sometimes cheaper) and the store felt tired even though the enthusiasm and energy of the staff was as high as ever.

I hope even at this late stage that something might be done to save this great store chain which seems a real part of the British shopping experience even if it is (perhaps surprisingly) an American brand.

Let us all hope Woolies can 'pic' itself up and 'mix' with the big shops again.

Saturday night TV mania

This is my column in the Bath Chronicle of November 27 2008

Have you ever wondered how your life would be described if you were deemed sufficiently important to warrant an obituary in our leading national newspapers?
You would, no doubt, want to be remembered for your greatest achievements – the things that really mattered in your life.
Here for example is a potential ‘obit’ of someone who has done an awful lot in his life, someone who would clearly deserve many column inches in all our leading papers.
This man is regarded as one of the foremost journalists of his generation. Educated at Oxford, he went on to be an outstanding reporter working in 25 different countries – many of them war torn – before becoming a distinguished political journalist which saw him present Today and The World At One. He then graduated to the biggest, most prestigious reporting job in British political journalism – that of the BBC’s chief political correspondent. If that wasn’t enough, he then joined rivals ITN as their political editor. What a CV.
But it means nothing.
For on the day that a certain John Sergeant goes to visit the great politician in the sky, I envisage that the first paragraph of his obituary will talk about a time he toodled around the ballroom stage rather than on the Westminster one. For, as we all know, Mr Sergeant walked out on hit BBC show Strictly Come Dancing last week prompting more headlines, debate and column inches than most of the hugely important political stories he covered in his distinguished career.
The sheer scale of the publicity caused by John’s decision to throw in the top hat and tails is, to me, indicative of the fact that the whole country seems to be rediscovering its love of television – and in particular Saturday night television.
When I was growing up my favourite children’s programme was the delightfully anarchic Tiswas starring a somewhat less cynical Chris Tarrant, Lenny Henry, Spit the Dog and the delectable Sally James. For those that don’t know, Tiswas stood for ‘Today Is Saturday, Watch And Smile’ and that is certainly how people seem to be reacting now to the pleasantly old-fashioned Saturday night onslaught of TV light entertainment that hits us from the end of the football results until Match of the Day.
If my family are anything to go by – and I rather suspect they are – last Saturday night was a continual stream of Strictly Come Dancing, X Factor, I’m A Celebrity, X Factor results plus ITV2 or BBC2 post-show discussions. The surprising thing about this Saturday night feast is how universally appealing it has become.
People who I wouldn’t imagine for a second would have the slightest bit of interest in dancing have confessed to me that they are avid ‘Strictly’ fans, music fans who normally regard even Mozart as a ‘bit commercial’ are ‘fessing-up’ to being X Factor devotees and people of all ages seem to be revelling in the jungle antics of the likes of Robert Kilroy-Silk and the truly appalling David Van Day.What is actually quite nice about all this – and one of the reasons why I think this relatively easy entertainment has started to mean so much to so many – is that it takes all our minds away from the increasingly depressing news we hear, day in, day out.
The savage effects of the credit crunch are already being felt by the minority (and the majority also feel nervous that it is just around the corner for them as well) so to be able to lose yourself for a few hours at least in watching Rachel Stevens do her foxtrot, JLS attempt to sing a Take That song or even an ex-member of the EastEnders cast being asked to eat the penis of a kangaroo can be a helpful (if disturbing) distraction.
In fact, thinking about it, maybe I am wrong about Mr Sergeant. With the news being so depressing maybe he will be pleased that his future obit writers will remember him as a man who brought a smile to our face as he dragged his partner around the stage rather than as a deliverer of the nightly gloom.
Happy viewing folks.