Wednesday, 30 December 2009

So which Christmas traditions have survived?

If there is one word that is usually employed to justify practically anything over Christmas it is that phrase ‘tradition’. Don’t like sprouts? Tough, it’s a tradition. Don’t want to visit that weird uncle you have avoided all year? Forget it – it’s a tradition.

And so it goes on.

But just how are some of our Christmas traditions baring up? Looking at the festive time that has just passed, are those precious practices really as safe as we think? Investigative journalism beginneth!

Santa. Remarkably (and thankfully for any children reading!) Father Christmas seems as popular and as busy as ever. He obviously had a lot to do on Christmas Eve but he was everywhere around Bath before then. Santa is seemingly immortal.
(Tradition Survival Rating *****)

Christmas Cards. Definitely a dying art. I can guarantee that you didn’t receive as many this year as last and that you will receive even less next year. Nowadays you are just as likely to get a dancing elf on your computer as a card in the post.
(Tradition Survival Rating **)

Christmas dinner. Chat to any group of people and you will find the same repeated story – everybody dislikes at least one item on their Christmas dinner plate. Does it stop them getting it? Of course not. The Christmas meal looks as secure as the, err, Bank of England. Sorry turkeys – this one is here to stay.

(Tradition Survival Rating *****)

Christmas carols/Nativity plays. These looked a bit under threat a few years ago as fewer schools seemed to be holding them. Now, they seem to be making something of a come back and it looks as though we will be harking the Herald and admiring children who play ‘fourth camel from the left’ for years to come.

(Tradition Survival Rating ****).

Christmas presents. The Three Wise Men bought frankincense, myrrh and gold to the baby Jesus – nowadays, sadly, they would be more likely to take a few Shekels and a token for Bethlehem’s Toys R Us. The practice of just giving someone a lump of money and having the same amount given back to you is frankly pointless. Bring back real, wrapped-up, presents we cry!
(Tradition Survival Rating ****)

Christmas TV. This is still a tradition that is ‘hanging in there’ and once again this year BBC1 came up trumps. Eastenders remains one of my guilty pleasures and what could be nicer or more festive than seeing someone murdered in the Queen Vic on Christmas night?
(Tradition Survival Rating ****)

And finally....

Jesus. He is the ‘reason for the season’ but you’d be hard pressed to find evidence of that fact. Just take a look at the (few) Christmas cards that you got sent this year and I can guarantee that unless you are a vicar there will more images of Father Christmas, a reindeer or even a snowflake than the little fella from the stable. Jesus, of course, would (I am sure) just be happy that everyone is celebrating His birthday but just as if He were a twin there must be times when He thinks ‘just for one day I wish I was the only star of the show . . .’
(Tradition Survival Rating **** – but I am sure He will just about cope!).

Thursday, 17 December 2009

A day to mourn and celebrate a special lady

13 years ago, a 25-year-old woman, Melanie Hall, went mising after a night out in Bath's city centre. A few weeks ago her body was finally found and everyone's worst fears were confirmed - she had been murdered. I went to the funeral in Bath Abbey last week and here is my comment on what was a very moving event. It appears in the Chronicle of Thursday, December 17.

"Melanie Hall was, by all accounts, a beautiful woman on both the inside and the outside. And, therefore, it seemed apt that her funeral last Friday was a truly beautiful affair.

I was there, along with around 1,000 folk from all over the community, both to mourn and to celebrate the life of a 25-year-old woman who has become an unwitting part of modern day Bath history.

This was a time for tears, yes, but it was also a time to cheer a life well lived and salute a remarkable young person who touched everyone she met.

Friday’s unforgettable service gave us all an hitherto unseen glimpse into Melanie’s character, provided with courage and tenderness by family and friends alike. What emerged was a picture of a caring, modest woman who would probably have been somewhat bemused (and probably a trifle embarrassed) by the waves of love that were expressed towards her in this most public of places. After all Melanie had seemingly spent her whole life expressing and living her love for others – on Friday it was chance for the world to see she was truly loved back.

What made the day so special was that every element worked together perfectly. The music was rich and evocative, the carols and hymns (led by Ruth McKibbins’ quite wonderful Silver Ring choir) were well chosen and expertly sung and the quality and delivery of the readings and tributes was simply peerless.

The powerful, thought-provoking address of Melanie’s father, Steve, fired all our imaginations but no less effective and inspiring were the intimate insights into a young life offered by Melanie’s sister Dominique and friends and colleagues like Sister Gill Capon, Sophie Bruce and Sarah Hopkins. All spoke from the heart – and all duly touched everyone else’s.
Some of us there, including myself, had never had the privilege of knowing Melanie but I am sure we all felt we ‘met’ her on Friday.

In addition we were able to reflect on the well-crafted readings and thoughts expressed by the Revd Prebendary Edward Mason, the Rev Chris Roberts and the Rev Alison Fry who, I thought, all got their tone and message exactly right. Put it all together and the whole service was like a beautiful mountain range – all peaks and no valleys.

The impact was to leave all of us in the packed abbey feeling humbled, inspired and totally united. I found so many moments on Friday to be intensely moving but I was particularly struck by the words of a poem by David Harkins called She’s Gone, read so elegantly by the brave Dominique Hall.

It included the following lines which sums up how so many of must feel when we have lost loved ones. These words – about looking forward not back and offering thanksgiving for a life not just sadness for its loss – seemed as if they were written for this occasion and for this special young lady even though they were penned nearly 30 years ago . . .

You can close your eyes and pray that she will come back,
Or you can open your eyes and see all that she has left...
"You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back,
Or you can do what she would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.”

Words, as they say, are not enough – but boy, oh boy, did they come close.

So, Melanie, finally, we can say ‘rest in peace’. No one deserves that sense of peace more.

Sleep well".

Monday, 30 November 2009

Nicolas Cage - a gentleman and an honorary Bathonian

We, here at the Bath Chronicle, are doing an eight page picture supplement to mark the remarkable night last Thursday when Nicolas Cage switched on the Bath city lights. Here is the introductory piece I have done for it which sums up my feelings of a pretty extraordinary occasion. The picture above shows me and our managing director Sarah Irvine witht eh Hollywood A Lister (and yes, he is the one in the middle...)

Thursday, November 26, is a night that the city of Bath will simply never forget.

When it was first announced that Nicolas Cage was to turn on the city’s lights, I’m sure there were many who thought it was a ‘wind up’ or something that would actually never happen in reality.

But there we were, in our thousands last week, to see the reality come true as one of the biggest stars in Hollywood kicked off Bath’s Christmas celebrations in style.

It wasn’t just the fact that Nicolas Cage switched on the lights that made it so magical, it was the way he treated his adopted home town – and the way it treated him back. Even though there were upwards of 10,000 people struggling to get a view of the proceedings, the atmosphere, humour and spirit amongst this huge crowd was simply fantastic. Even the rain, which had been Bath’s constant companion last week, had a night off because nothing was going to ruin the night Hollywood came to our city.

As for Nicolas Cage, there are many things we could say to compliment him but what struck me most was that he came over as a real gentleman. He didn’t rush through proceedings as if he had something more important to do, he made time to talk to people and sign autographs. And when he spoke it was with a sincerity that belied the traditional view of his profession.

He was, in truth, an even better man than we had dared imagined and he made the night a special one for everyone that came into direct or indirect contact with him.

As far as the city goes, it was also a gift in publicity terms. The incredulity about the fact that the city had secured Nicolas Cage to turn on its lights was spread throughout the national and indeed international media but just as importantly was the fact that many of the media outlets picked up on what the star actually said.

The phrase that most hit me was when Mr Cage described Bath as “the most beautiful city in the world”. This is a man, remember, who has filmed and lived in some spectacular cities across the globe and yet none of them compares to the city of Bath in his eyes. This is a quote which must be used in every bit of literature that Bath tourism chiefs send out in future because the value of this cannot be understated.

We hope that Nicolas Cage realises that his simple actions last week have made him many, many friends in our community. He truly has now become an honorary Bathonian.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Nicolas Cage, Alcatraz and hard-to-please Bathonians!

I have come to the (somewhat belated) conclusion that it takes an awful lot to impress some people in the fine city of Bath.

Maybe it’s because Bath has always punched above its weight and attracted major events and famous people but it seems some Bathonians refuse to get excited about anything.
Take the event taking place in Bath tonight (Thursday, November 26) . For here in Bath we have Hollywood A-Lister Nicolas Cage switching on our city-centre Christmas lights. This is a role normally (and very adequately) performed by the mayor or another worthy citizen in most cities of Bath's size. But Bath (being Bath) doesn't think of itself as a small city so they wanted something different this year.

So the ad director at the Bath Chronicle newspaper (Paul Wiltshire) and a few others on the Bath Christmas marketing team drew up a ‘hit list’ of possible canddiates to do the honours with the emphasis on who could bring the most people onto the streets to kick off the Christmas celebrations.
Top of the list was a recent Bath resident Nicolas Cage but I bet next to his name there was brackets around the phrase “nice idea but no chance”.

Well, it seems there was every chance.

One of our enterprising young ladies here at the Chronicle, Emma Samways, did the really radical thing of asking simply asking Mr Cage via a polite letter if he would mind switching on the lights. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The news that a genuine Hollywood superstar would, quite literally, be lighting up the city, has caused a mixture of shock and awe in many circles. In our office alone a kind of minor hysteria has set in!

I sometimes think, however, you have to go out of Bath to get a perspective on things because when I’ve mentioned this news to people who live beyond our borders, they have said ‘how on earth did you pull that one off’?

In Bath, however, not everyone is so convinced.

We ran a letter a couple of weeks ago from someone asking us to stop putting Mr Cage in the paper, and there’s been a number of similarly ‘sniffy’ remarks on our website ( too.
Some aren’t impressed with Mr Cage, others are worried about not being able to park and many are just a few words away from saying ‘bah humbug’.
So, in the interest of balance, can I just say publicly that the visit of Nicolas Cage is a GREAT thing for our city. As I say, if our office is anything to go by it has caused a wave of excitement among those who live and work in our community and all the shops and market stalls must be rubbing their hands with glee at the thousands of potential new customers who will hit the streets tonight and see what Bath has to offer.

Talking of shops brings me to another example of some Bath people finding it hard to appreciate what’s around them.

Bath has just opened a pretty stylish new shopping centre called SouthGate. I am more than happy to say that I really like the centre. I think it is an elegantly put together building which blends into Bath very well . And it is a million times better than the 60s monstrosity it has replaced.
But, again, not everyone is convinced.

This week, someone on a website has (wittily I think) compared it to Alcatraz, and although this did make me smile which is why I’ve reprinted the image here (SouthGate is below by the way!!!), we’ve already seen evidence in our letters pages and online that a lot of people just aren’t as convinced by the new centre as we are

Some people, for example, have criticised it for being ‘faux Georgian’ but sadly that’s the best we can do as we’re a couple of hundred years late to do the real thing! But equally, had it been more modern (and further away from Bath's Georgain roots) , I suspect the critics would have been lining up at the postboxes to write letters about how this betrayed the city’s heritage.

You just can’t win!

Ah well, maybe such debate is why we all love the city so much.
Right, better go, rumour has it there’s a Hollywood superstar in town...

Friday, 20 November 2009

2D or 3D, The Queen's dimensions do impress

There have been two revealing and thought-provoking images of Her Majesty, The Queen, on our TV screens this week.
The first was the remarkable footage shown on Channel 4 of The Queen’s coronation and her first few months as monarch – all shot in the gloriously intoxicating aspect of 3D.

As you will see from the crop of movies out this year, 3D is definitely ‘in vogue’ and Channel 4’s week-long celebration of the art of that extra dimension has been boosted by the amazing footage it discovered of The Queen showing her, literally, having new depths.

Fast-forward 60 years and on Wednesday we saw her resplendent in robes and crown opening Parliament. This was all in 2D (sadly) but those pictures will fly around the world as an example of the peculiar but rather splendid nature of our Parliamentary traditions.

These two bits of film left me pondering again about The Queen.

For, whether you are a staunch Republican or an avid monarchist, you can’t deny she has been one of the few ‘constants’ in British life since that ‘3D’ coronation in 1953. Politicians (and political parties) have come and gone as have members of the ‘new Royalty’ (celebrities) but The Queen has remained as a seemingly unshakeable rock in the midst of it all.

She has (amazingly) gone more than 60 years without ever really putting her foot in it, too – something none of us could ever say. Or indeed, let's be honest, any of her family.

It is a pretty impressive record.

I guess , like most people, my opinion on the monarchy has shifted over time. As a young, punky rebel I was very much an anti-monarchist. My preferred version of God Save The Queen was The Sex Pistols’ one rather than the national anthem and for years I argued that in this day and age the monarchy was an anachronism. And an expensive one to boot.

But over the years, as I have seen so much turmoil in the political arena, the solidity of the monarchy has increased its appeal to me. Without a King or Queen as head of state we would have had, instead, either a Prime Minister/President rolled into one or a separate, elected President alongside a PM. E

ither way I am pretty certain that due to their immense popularity at times that would have meant both a President Thatcher and a President Blair at one point. Both presidencies would have been very popular with their supporters – but would have incensed their opponents both here and abroad. And if you look at the nobody who has just become President of Europe that hardly inspires the Republican cause either. I doubt too many people will be buying tea towels with his face on it ....

The monarchy has also ‘got to me’ as I have travelled more and seen what they mean beyond our shores. The Queen (sorry about this Madonna, Angelina or even Jordan!) is the most famous woman in the world and when people see her they automatically associate her with these shores. It is a positive image - something our politicians and political instituitions rarely give.

I also recall watching a documentary which showed President George W Bush (another great advert for a President don't you think?) nervously waiting to meet The Queen at the White House. The US President is the most powerful figure on the planet (sadly) and yet W. knew where he ‘stood’ alongside Her Maj. After all where he is now – while she is opening Parliament?

I have also seen the effects of the monarchy at close range – the lift they give people they meet, the excitement their visits generate, the money their presence brings to projects – and let’s be honest no British politician has the ‘star quality’ to generate that unified enthusiasm.

So yes, whether it is 2D or 3D I now admit that The Queen and the institution she represents ‘works’ for me. I know my younger self is shouting ‘shame’ but I can only shout back – ‘come on Sam, it’s got to be better than a President John Major or a President Michael Foot surely?’

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Dubai - an amazing city with unlimited potential

Last week I had the chance to go on a special 'whsitle-stop tour' of the amazing city of Dubai. To be honest this isn't my normal kind of place - too hot? too flash? - but I was genuinely seduced by it all. Here is my lengthy overview of a remarkable place which is featured in a full page of the Bath Chronicle on November 19. Grab a coffee and read on . . . .

Some of the most popular computer games on the market at the moment are ones that give you the chance to design your own city out of thin air.

You are given the resources, the tools and the manpower to create your dream civilisation and the only thing limiting your ambition is your imagination.

At some point (particularly when things are going well), I’m sure most of the players secretly ponder: “if only this was real, if only you could really create a city out of nothing”. Well, ladies and gentlemen, stop pondering. It has already been done for you – welcome to Dubai.

Dubai didn’t even get electricity until the 1950s and it was one of those places where if you looked in any direction you would see the same thing – sand and the odd bit of Arabian water. Now, however, Dubai is one of the most exciting and rapidly-developing cities on earth. It has turned into an irresistible tourist magnet by wholeheartedly adopting the vision of becoming the most modern, innovative, stylish and forward-thinking resort on the planet.

I was lucky enough to spend a few days in Dubai courtesy of Virgin Atlantic and the Hilton hotel chain and I left – as I guess most people do – totally staggered by what I’d seen. I felt as though I was a witness to a unique and unprecedented experiment – one where money was no object and the desire to be the biggest, brightest and most dramatic tourist hot-spot was the sole driving force.
But, first things first.

Dubai is not cheap (but equally it’s not as expensive as you would think) and Dubai is hot – and I mean ‘microwave hot’.

I was there in the first week of November as we entered the ‘winter months’ and the temperature hit 33 degrees. A couple of months earlier – during our summer holidays over here – you could expect that figure to reach 45 degrees, a figure guaranteed to turn even the hardiest of Brits’ skin a deep shade of black. Be warned.

Those extreme months apart, however, this is a genuine beach resort and those beaches are beautiful, white and sandy and lapped by the gorgeous Arabian sea. So, if you want a luxurious beach holiday you will struggle to find a better one – but you would be wrong to go to Dubai just for that – it has so much more to offer.

As Dubai is a newcomer to the world of tourism, it hasn’t fallen into the trap of saying ‘here’s a beach, here’s a towel, that’s your holiday’. It has, for example, taken into account that one of the other great modern joys (for some people!) is high-class shopping and so in a population of a relatively modest one million people, there is currently 14m square feet of shopping space – and that figure could double in the next 10 years.

We visited just three of the 40 plus shopping ‘malls’ and I was left dumbstruck at the sheer scale.One of them, The Dubai Mall, covered nearly six million square feet and featured 1,200 shops. Every top class name you could imagine was there – it even boasted a Bloomingdale’s.

And, although this is a serious mall for serious shoppers, it is not without its fun side either because you could buy sweets from the world’s biggest sweet shop or visit a splendid cinema, an ice rink or dive in a remarkable indoor aquarium.

I took the latter option and stared into the white, naked teeth of the sharks encircling me – a feeling I’m sure many of the shoppers felt elsewhere.
But Dubai being Dubai, it doesn’t end there.
Inside one of these malls (The Mall of the Emirates) you can have the surreal experience of being baking hot on one side of a piece of glass and watching skiers on the other as a breath-taking indoor snow centre has been set up. So you can go down the slopes at Ski Dubai as the same high speed as your bank balance . . .
When you’ve finished all that sunbathing, shopping and skiing, then it’s time to head back to your hotel – and here again Dubai sets a very high standard indeed. Many people will, I’m sure, have seen pictures of the Burj (the world’s first seven star hotel) and there are other astonishing hotels like The Atlantis to admire but from what I saw, you would be hard-pressed to find any hotel that didn’t impress you with its quality, cleanliness and high level of service.

As an example, we stayed in two excellent and very different hotels – both of which were part of the Hilton chain.

The Hilton Dubai Creek (its sperctacular toof top pool is pictured above) is more of a top class business hotel than a typically ‘touristy’ one and it boasted the sort of bathroom that will make every guest feel like a member of the royal family. It also had the considerable attraction of a Verre by Gordon Ramsey restaurant where we were treated to a meal cooked by its charming head chef (who has somehow managed to keep his head and his humour despite working 10 years for Gordon!) which was superb.

Like everything we encountered in Dubai, you got the impression that first class was the ONLY class and that actually feels quite unusual in this day and age. Unusual – but rather nice.

Our second hotel stay was in a more traditional beach hotel – the Hilton Dubai Jumeirah. Once again the rooms, the food, the service and the general ambience made you feel very special and in terms of my culinary highlight this time, I enjoyed an unforgettable meal in the hotel’s South American restaurant called Pachanga. Here we ate a dish called Churrasco which gave you the chance to slice your own beautifully cooked meat off various spits and eat your meat with gay abandon. It all made me feel a bit Henry VIIIish.

Elsewhere on our five day trip we had a revealing tour of the city (which really reinforces the excitingly experimental nature of what they’re trying to do there), a lovely meal on the the delightful Bateaux Dubai dinner cruise and also a chance to visit the (thankfully authentic) gold and spice souks which gave you a glimpse into the true nature of these lands.

This was a far cry from the more westernised malls and beach hotels and there were real bargains and haggling to be had here – particularly in terms of gold. I would urge everyone who goes to Dubai for the more glamorous, cosmopolitan attractions to at least taste this other aspect of life in the United Arab Emirates because it is a fascinating (and friendly) cultural experience.

Our trip, expertly organised by the Virgin Atlantic team, was relatively brief – and as you can see from the fact boxes below, a lot of trips to Dubai are marketed that way. In some ways three-five nights just isn’t enough because I’m pretty certain that no matter how long you are able to spend there, you simply could never be bored.

The reason for this is that Dubai has had the luxury as a tourist latecomer of viewing all the rest of the world – and then taking the best of the best of ideas. As well as those gorgeous beaches, incredible shops and impeccable hotels, there are festivals galore, a brilliant water park, top class sporting events (the nearby Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was a massive success and don’t be surprised if the Emirates go for a unique indoor Olympics in 20 years or so!) and you get the distinct impression that there are people in that city who, as we speak, are already planning the next jaw dropping attraction to tempt yet more of us ‘punters’.

Of course this may all sound too new and too flash for you and, let’s be honest, Dubai won’t be to everyone’s taste. But what impressed me is that the city has (remarkably perhaps), avoided allowing the extreme wealth behind their vision to turn the whole experience into a giant tacky Las Vegas style chocolate box.
Yes there are very tall, sky-dominating buildings (including the world’s tallest structure which is genuinely breathtaking) and yes there is a fair share of neon lighting as well but there’s still a subtlety and sophistication about virtually everything you experience which shows that Dubai wants to be the biggest and the best – but wants to remain a class act while doing it.

I personally think this is the kind of resort that has got something for everyone and also has an added ‘something’ which unfortunately many more modern resorts lack – and that is seemingly unlimited potential. Dubai has set itself a goal to attract 15 million visitors a year by 2015 and it aims to do so by improving its offering at every turn.

There is the vision to achieve it, the imagination to push boundaries, enthusiasm aplenty and, most of all, money to make it happen – bucket loads of it.In your dreams (or on your computer screens) you have probably already created Dubai.

Now go and see it for yourself.

Facts and figures..... We flew with Virgin Atlantic and stayed at the Hilton Dubai Creek and the Hilton Dubai Jumeirah.Five nights in Dubai with Virgin Holidays, including scheduled flights with Virgin Atlantic from London Heathrow direct to Dubai, accommodation at the 5V Hilton Dubai Creek with breakfast and transfers starts from £620, saving up to £93. Prices are per person based on two adults travelling and sharing a standard room. Price includes all taxes and fuel surcharges which are subject to change. These prices are based on departures between May 8 to 18 2010.Five nights with Virgin Holidays staying at the 5V Hilton Dubai Jumeirah with breakfast and transfers starts from £712 saving up to £56. Prices are per person based on two adults travelling and sharing a standard room, price includes all applicable taxes and fuel surcharges which are subject to change. Prices are also based on departures between May 8 to 18 2010.Virgin Holidays is a member of ABTA and is ATOL protected. For more details on these breaks contact, call 0844 557 3860 or, even better, visit the new Bath Virgin Holidays store on the first floor of the Jollys House of Fraser store in Milsom Street.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Bath Film Festival's Soulfull kick off

I had the pleasure of going to the launch of the Bath Film Festival on Thursday night - and what a 'soulful' and inspiriing night it was too.

The Festival chose Komedia to be the host for its launch which I thought this was a very good, non-traditional venue for a film fest.

And in a venue where laughs and good times are the order of the day it seemed apt that the film that kicked it all off was Soul Power, a movie about a three day music concert held to coincide with the classic 1974 heavyweight title fight in Zaire between Ali and Foreman.

The film footage, which has only just resurfaced and has now been beautifully packaged, followed the somewhat shambolic opening preparations for this gig to its triumphant conclusion where the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, dominated the show. The footage of this remarkable man was enough to make the film itself but you had plenty of other great performances to admire from African and African-American artists - I loved Miriam Makeba, The Spinners, BB King and Bill Withers in particular . All performed so well you almost forgot how bad their flares were.

The real star however was the main man himself - Muhammad Ali. If there is a more watchable man on screen I have yet to see it, because you literally can't take your eyes off him or turn off your ears to what he says. The trip to Africa clearly had a profound impact on him and he used every opportunity to talk about the relationship between black and white people in a way that still strikes a powerful chord today, 35 years later. And it clearly inspired him in the ring as well - enough to help him win the big fight that followed....

But this is not a boxing film, it is a musical one and the music just burns brightly. The feet never stop tapping throughout and it was a genuine (and unexpected) pleasure to see a film end with enthusiastic applause from a live and lively audience.

So a great kick off for the Bath festival and look out for many fine films in the next few weeks from blockbuster names and much-anticipated premieres such as The Informant and A Prophet to weird little movies including a 'cricket slasher movie' (I kid you not) and old classics like The Belles of St Trinians.

More details on this great feast of film from

Get up, get on up!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Why I respect, admire and support our servicemen

The context for this piece is that in the Chronicle letters two weeks ago a writer, Tony Culver, said we should be ashamed of our British military history and he said our armed forces did not deserve our respect. He has since repeated that claim in a new letter this week - and this was the response I made in my column, printed on November 12.

Whenever I talk to local community groups it is usually only a matter of time before the Bath Chronicle’s famous (or should I say infamous)? letters pages are discussed.

I know that our pages are avidly read by people and the contents are widely discussed and debated.

This is because, by and large, we have an exceptional letters section which allows our readers to pontificate on all manner of hot topics which really gets their debating juices flowing.

I am just like everyone else in that a number of the letters that appear are ones I fully agree with and others are totally against my own personal view. And that is fine, because they are your letters pages – not mine.

However, occasionally, just occasionally, one letter gnaws away at me so I cannot ignore it. And that is what has happened this week with the second letter we print by Tony Culver who has attacked our armed forces and their long history.

It is his view, one he passionately believes, and he has every right to be heard (and printed). But so do we who fundamentally disagree.

I could talk at some length about many of the issues Mr Culver raises about war, peace and our armed forces generally but I just want to focus on one core subject, one which I think challenges everyone who believes in ‘peace at all cost’.

And that is the Second World War.

You could make a fairly powerful argument against nearly every war that has been fought but the Second World War was different – very, very different. When you are growing you play games with goodies and ‘baddies’, and this was a war when those terms genuinely (and uniquely?) apply.

Yes, there are many innocent German people who lost their lives in that conflict, but there is no denying that the Nazi regime that led them to war was pure evil. And pure evil can not – and must not – be ignored.

Mr Culver’s plea of peace is absolutely commendable – but it only works if both sides sign up. As we know Britain did everything it could to appease Hitler – and all he did was to sneer at our weakness.

Had we ignored his growing militarism to keep our own ‘purity of peace’ we would have seen Europe enslaved, Britain completely overrun (the Nazis would hardly have respected our ‘neutrality’) and we would probably have seen the total and utter destruction of the Jewish race on our continent.

I visited Auschwitz last year and saw for myself the appalling effect of Hitler’s insane beliefs and anyone that can possibly think he would have been stopped in his evil plans to create an Aryan master race by ‘peaceful methods’ is almost dangerously naive. Hitler had to be stopped – and the only way, sadly, he was going to be stopped was at the end of a gun.

In his latest letter, Mr Culver also said that the freedom we have now isn’t worth the price of the millions who died for it. He is wrong. Freedom, like democracy, is something that we in the west take for granted – ask the millions in the world who don’t have it how much they were prepared to sacrifice to gain it and you may not see such a flip attitude to freedom. And that has been earned mainly by our brilliant, committed and dedicated armed forces for whom we all owe our pride, respect and loyalty.

I will, as editor, continue to print Mr Culver’s words and those of people who support him but as an individual I feel nothing but incredible pride for the people who lost their lives in British uniforms so that I, and Mr Culver, can have the right to debate these issues.So, yes I will remember them all.

And with genuine pride.

Ex-Strangler Hugh Cornwell previews his Bath show

This is a piece I have done for the Bath Chronicle about Hugh Cornwell, the former lead singer of The Stranglers, and his appearance on November 18 at the city venue Moles. If you see this and can get to Bath next week there is a contest at the bottom of this to win tickets!!

Former Stranglers front man makes Moles debut

Hugh Cornwell, the locally-based former lead singer of The Stranglers, returns to Bath on Wednesday for a surprise second major show in the city this year.

The Box singer/songwriter, who played an extremely well-received concert at Komedia in March, will be making his first ever appearance at Moles as part of a warm-up for an important national tour, on Wednesday.

But, although it will be Hugh’s debut live show at Bath’s most famous venue, he is certainly no stranger to its underground delights.

“I’ve never played Moles before”, said Hugh. “I used to go there a lot in the past and thinking about it, I must have spent an awful lot of drinking money there.

“It was always a good place for seeing bands and I can remember seeing The Manic Street Preachers there before they broke. I also have some vague memory of The Stranglers doing some filming in Moles but I can’t remember what it was so perhaps that’s just one of those memories that doesn’t actually exist.”

The reason for Hugh’s quick return to Bath is for him to prepare for several high-profile national concerts which will sees him playing a set devoted to the classic 1977 Stranglers album Rattus Norvegicus and the other half to his solo album, Hoover Dam.

It’s the first time that Hugh will ever have done this ‘whole album concept’ and he says it just seemed a logical thing to do at this stage of his long and varied career.

“We have been touring extensively with Hoover Dam and it is an album the band and I really enjoy playing. The idea to do the whole of that record as well as the whole of Rattus came together when I realised how many of the songs from that first Stranglers album I already played and so it seemed like an interesting thing to run them all altogether and then do the same with the latest record. It will all make for a nice little show I think”

This means that fans of both Hugh’s past and current music should have a real treat. He will kick off with the whole of his latest album – which has been a huge success critically and has earned him an enormous amount of attention after being given away free to download – and after a break he will return to the stage and blast out all the songs of his first ever album with The Stranglers including such hits as Peaches and Grip as well as acknowledged Stranglers classics like Hanging Around and Down In The Sewer.

“There are only a couple of songs on Rattus that I haven’t done on my own before so I thought doing them would be fun. I don’t normally sing songs that other people in the band used to sing but it’s been good to revisit them and give them a new twist,” he said.

Before this mini-tour Hugh had been very active in America.

In Europe The Stranglers always had a big following and success, but in the United States it was something of a different story which is why Hugh is so determined to make his mark there this time around.

“Being a success in America is a real building process and you have to put the work in and leave a calling card everywhere you go. It’s something that we just never really did with The Stranglers. It takes time to make your mark over there and with The Stranglers we were never that bothered about doing that. We also left it far too long between each visit and I’m determined not to do that again. I’ve learned from my mistakes,” he said.

The fact that Hugh’s album can de downloaded free all around the world (visit will greatly help that process.
“A lot of people we played to seemed to know the Hoover Dam songs pretty well because of the whole free download situation. It meant that we could play just about anywhere and be sure of an audience because people could check out our album for free in the days running up to a show and then come along if they liked it.

“In the past it was only the bigger towns where we used to get an audience because our material wasn’t universally available – now you can play to as many people in a smaller town as in a bigger one. The internet knows no boundaries ands we have benefited from that.”

Before returning back to the States, Hugh is keenly-anticipating his concerts in the UK and it seems his work ethic and desire to play live has never been stronger. His reasons for that are quite clear: “I’m healthier now than I’ve ever been which certainly helps,” he said. “I also think as you get older you realise there’s only a short time left to be able to do what you do and you just want to be more active. If you sit around that time just goes. I don’t want to waste any time at all – and I think that’s part of the drive.”

As for Wednesday’s Bath show, Hugh says he’s really looking forward to returning to Moles.
“This concert has all fitted in perfectly and I’m really looking forward to it. Bath is just such a nice place and it has always been good to me,” he said.

Wednesday’s show starts at 7.30pm and any remaining tickets, costing £20, are available now from Moles and their usual outlets.

  • The Bath Chronicle has two tickets to give away for the gig. If you would like to win the pair then send an email to with the answer to the question: in what year did Hugh and his fellow Stranglers release Rattus Norvegicus? The concert promoters will contact the winners direct.

Monday, 9 November 2009

An 18-year-old daughter? Me? I am far too young/....

If you were to ask people around me to list my most irritating faults, I am pretty certain that one thing that would crop up frequently is that I am forever banging on about the fact that I don't think I look my age. No matter what my passport or driving licence tells me in my own warped mind, I am convionced the mirror tells a different story.

However, sometimes something creeps up and bites you on the big bottom of life that cruelly destroys your self-delusion about your age.

And that happened to me last weekend when my eldest 'child', my 'little' girl, Charlotte, was 18. Yes, I am now the the father of an 18-year-old and no pretence that I look young enough to host Blue Peter can escape that fact.

It really is a sobering moment to realise your child is no longer your 'child'. She can see the same films as I do (not that we have the same tastes), vote in the same elections (not that she has the interest that I do) and do practically anything she wants really without ever uttering the immortal words 'Dad, can I.....?'

Actually that isn't strictly true. As every parent of a teenager will know, you become a taxi driver – and so, last Saturday night, my role was to help ferry her and her friends off to Poo Nah's Nah's in Bath. Nightclubs hey...and all this from that sweet little well-mannered girl who only a few years ago (in my memory) was taking her first dancing lessons at the age of just three.


Nowadays, in the world of social networking sites it is so easy to track the length of people's lives and learn all about them easily but for me, and the rest of the family, our pondering over Charlotte's 'big 1-8' has still been centred around digging out old photographs of baby competitions, first days at school, first holidays and so forth. It has been, as our American cousins say, emotional.

Perhaps the best way of tracking that time, however, is to see how different the world was when Charlotte was born (in 1991) to today.

For a start, the aforementioned social networking sites obviously didn't exist. It is amazing, considering their influence, to learn that Facebook is only six years old (and in reality was nothing like we know it today until two or three years ago), Twitter is just three years old and even the supposed 'grand daddy' of them all, Youtube, is astonishingly just four years old. How many other four-year-olds can genuinely be considered a world phenomenon?

Oh and as for Wikipedia (nine years old), if I had wanted to give Charlotte that much info as a birth gift I would have had to pay £200 for a book of dusty old encyclopedias – which would have been outdated the moment after purchase.

Those 18 years have, of course, seen many epic, often frightening worldwide events but it is probably this dramatic age of communication change that has characterised this past generation.

Many of you, may, for example be reading this online on my blog (hi there!) rather than in print and with so many developments of this kind happening so quickly one can only imagine how different the communications scene will look when one day Charlotte talks about her 'eldest's' 18th.

By then the world may not, for instance, be 'run' by the US and Europe as we pretend it is now but by the 'BRIC' countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China, the next global powers apparently). And I defy anyone to predict what life will be like then because no one, but no one, could have predicted life now the day 'Lotte' took her first breath.

So, a belated very happy birthday 'young' Charlotte. No dad in the world could be prouder of this but please don't be offended if you overhear me say: 'An 18-year-old daughter? When I look this young? Impossible....'

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Bath is an amazingly Creative city

On Thursday night unless the BBC has a dramatic change of heart, the prestigious Question Time show will have a record audience as well-known Holocaust denier Nick Griffin joins the illustrious panel. It may not be November 5 just yet – but boy, oh boy, expect fireworks.

On Tuesday night I too had the pleasure of sitting on a Question Time style panel – but thankfully there wasn’t a BNP activist in sight.

For this proudly non-political panel was one that was there to highlight one of Bath’s greatest hidden assets – it’s lively and highly imaginative creative sector.

he event had been organised by the burgeoning Creative Bath group which is aiming to bring together the many different creative industries in our city. The term “creative industry” is obviously quite a wide-ranging one and among the members of the group are people involved in all forms of the written media, TV and film, writing, web designing, music, photography and other less ‘obvious’ creative fields such as architecture.

What unites them all is that they use their imagination and their brains to produce their wares. And what an enjoyably eclectic bunch they are too.

At this latest meeting a number of us were asked to be part of a panel discussion on how the recession and general downturn has affected the media/creative sector. Chaired enthusiastically by the ever-energetic Greg Ingham of MediaClash, I shared that panel with Bob Mytton, Malcolm Brinkworth, Mike Ellis, Richard Daws and John Weir and between us we represented a wide range of different organisations all of whom have had different challenges during the past 12 months.

I found all my fellow guests to be fascinating and full of insight and between us and the equally engaged audience I think we enjoyed a pretty lively debate.

What virtually all of us in the packed Ustinov Theatre shared was the realisation that yes, the creative sector has had a tough time, but that hadn’t dented the optimism, positivism or the imagination of those of us in this fascinating sector.W

hat this night also illustrated was just how vibrant the creative scene is in Bath. Organisations such as the Chronicle, Future and MediaClash are all quite high-profile but there are many pockets in and around the city where smaller groups of people are producing top-class work that collectively is providing millions of pounds for our city’s economy.

The figures of how much the creative industries bring to our area are staggering and it was revealed on Tuesday night that Bath is doing as well as anywhere in the South West in terms of its creative enterprise.

I am fairly certain that in many towns or cities which are much bigger than Bath you would not get the same number of people attending such events as this and Bath does seem to be like a magnet for many people who work in the creative field. It seems somewhat ironic that in a city which is so rightfully proud of its past that if you scratch at the surface you will find many people who are working hard in the industries of the future.

I also sense that, although the Creative Bath organisation already has hundreds of active and enthusiastic members, there may be many other people out there who are still not aware of the benefits this group brings. If that sounds like you then can I push you to the group’s website ( where you can find out how you can join an organisation which may not only be good for you as an individual, but could also boost your business and help our city’s economy grow.

PS I bet tonight’ s Question Time won’t be nearly as inspiring . . .

Let's find Melanie's killer

Usually on my blog I post my weekly column from the Bath Chronicle which is often relatively light-hearted. This, however, is somewhat different.

As many people will now know, two weeks ago the remains of Bath girl Melanie Hall - who had gone missing 13 years ago - were discovered off the M5.

It meant that here in Bath we faced a murder hunt.

I therefore combined my usual weekly column in the Chronicle with the paper's official Editorial Comment (which I also write) to make a plea for local people to do everything they can to help catch the killer.

This is the comment/editorial I wrote, printed on Thursday, October 15.

'The phrase ‘every parent’s nightmare’ is one that is heard so often in everyday usage that it is probably quite meaningless now.

But if the phrase ever had any true meaning, it was in the distressing situation facing Steve and Pat Hall about the disappearance of their daughter, Melanie.

Thirteen years ago this bright, vivacious girl who had everything to live for, made a rare visit to a nightclub in Bath. She was never to return.

In the days, weeks and months that followed there were many theories about what might have happened to Melanie but time and time again the hopes of finding her were dashed and her parents were left in the most appalling state of limbo.

As those months turned to years the hopes that Melanie may one day turn up unexpectedly on the doorstep started to fade away totally but the mystery of what actually happened to her on that evening and where she was now never went away.

Until now that is.

The discovery of Melanie’s body on the side of the M5 last week and the subsequent, sadly inevitable, conclusion that she was the victim of a murder has reopened for her parents the whole awful nightmare again.

For Pat and Steve Hall the news of their daughter’s final resting place brought a welcome closure to the unanswered question that dominated their lives but also reopened the floodgates of pain once again. By throwing themselves into their work and hobbies – Pat was a senior player at the Royal United Hospital and Steve made a massive impression on Bath City Football Club – the couple had been able to create a life for themselves where they were not only the parents of a missing girl.

Now their world has been shaken again and their private anguish has become very public once more.

When the news broke for the family they had very mixed emotions. Although they were obviously distressed to realise the circumstances that led to their daughter’s death, they were at least comforted by the fact that now she can be laid to rest and they can give her the funeral and celebration of her life that she had been hitherto denied.

For the family, the police and indeed the whole city, the closure of this one door has opened another one – and it is one which is hard for us to all face. And that is that somebody – and possibly even somebody who is reading these words – killed Melanie and has escaped justice.

So far.

The best way we as a community can now help to respect the memory of Melanie and help her family to get through this new phase of their grieving is to try to do everything we can to help the police track down her murderer. Although this crime took place 13 years ago and there have been many investigations and false dawns since, the discovery of Melanie’s last resting place may well provide some of the vital clues that have eluded the police over the past decade.

The remarkable advances in forensic science and DNA mean that police have far more tools at their disposal to deal with crimes of this nature than ever before, and the clues that should be available by this discovery may well help to solve this long-standing crime. The most important tool of all, however, is still in the hands of the people of this city. Since the discovery, more than 100 calls (now 200) have been made to the incident room from people offering information and help about the case and we once again can only reiterate that if you were a witness or you were around Walcot Street on the night of June 8/9, 1996 and the renewed publicity has triggered something in your mind, no matter how small, then please contact the police.

The police would rather take a 1,000 calls that led nowhere than miss the one crucial one that could make the difference so please don’t hesitate to contact them with any information you have. (You can call them on 0117 945 5811 or via Crimestoppers Confidential on 0800 555111.)

And there is a whole new set of people who can help this case – people who may have been nowhere near Walcot Street in the summer of ’96. And they are the people who may have had suspicions that somebody close to them may have been involved in this terrible crime. None of us would like to face up to these suspicions, but we owe it to the memory of this young girl – and maybe others like her who were in similar circumstances – to act upon those doubts.

Perhaps if this is you, you had the thought at the back of your mind that maybe this case wasn’t as bad as it might have been. But now you know that we are talking about a brutal murder, it is time to act.

It is time to pick up that phone.

The disappearance of Melanie Hall has been a painful part of our city’s life for 13 years. Melanie’s parents cannot speak highly enough of the support they’ve had from people in Bath and the Bradford on Avon area. They know that everyone locally would like to see a resolution to this crime once and for all – let us give them that support to do so.

Finally, let us pay a tribute to Melanie Hall herself. She was a much-loved daughter and sister with an appetite for life and a wonderful spirit and in the weeks and months to come let us remember and celebrate that fact. She had a terrible death but a wonderful life before and let us all try to remember the girl and not just the victim.

Rest in peace, Melanie.

Sam Holliday, Editor

Friday, 9 October 2009

Yep, another art critic who knows nothing about art!

Last week I had the pleasure of adding the word ‘art’ to the growing CV of things I have had the chance to judge over the years.

As I said in this column a few weeks ago, my position as editor has led me to judge everything from rock competitions to beauty competitions (and practically everything in between) but until last Thursday, I had not had the pleasure of having a say in who should win prizes (totalling £5,000 no less) for the quality of their art.

I was invited – and I like to think as a representative of you all – to be one of the judges for The Bath Prize, a splendid new competition which encourages artists from this country and beyond to “celebrate the glory of our World Heritage city” with a painting depicting an inspiring view.

The competition attracted more than 150 high-quality entries from 100 different artists and the results of their endeavours are now on view for all to see at a superb free exhibition in the stunning venue of The Octagon in Milsom Place.
I think it is fair to say straight away, however, that if it takes an artist to know an artist then I should have been in big trouble.

To quote possibly the world’s oldest cliche, “I don’t know much about art but I know what I like” and I like to think I have a good eye for a striking image. But my own ‘talents’ with a pencil or paintbrush are so limited as to be laughable.

Indeed, one of my abiding memories of my school days was when we had to draw a self-portrait in our art class. The bushily-bearded and often incoherent art teacher who, frankly, was never my biggest ‘fan’, sat at the front of the class with all the completed images, lifted them up one by one and, without looking at the name on the front, was able to identify all of the names of the people who had drawn them because they were so accurate. And then he came to my picture in the last book he had. I was obviously the only person who had not received my book back and yet he still uttered the crushing words:

“Looking at this, I have absolutely no idea who this person is.”

My days as an artist were over. Before they had actually begun.

So, I took great delight thinking about “Mr Bushy Beard” as I became an art critic for the day along with several other judges who thankfully knew far more about how to use a paintbrush than I ever could. Indeed I was almost as impressed by the way my fellow judges (David Lee, Laura Gascoigne and two of Bath’s indisputedly nicest men –- the mayor Colin Barrett and Richard Hall from Future Bath Plus) explained the qualities of the work we were reviewing, as I was by the actual pictures themselves.

Between us our judging mixture of punters and experts (and guess which one I was)? produced a winning selection of which I hope the city can be proud.
It was not an easy choice because we ended up with dozens of images in the supposed ‘short’ list, such was the quality, variety and diversity of some of wonderful work.

I know art and paintings aren’t everybody’s first choice of cultural entertainment but I really believe that The Bath Prize is something which the whole city can enjoy and so I hope thousands of people will go into the Octagon (pictured right to view the images of some of the best-known parts of our city and some which will leave you scratching your head thinking “now where the heck is that place...”

The best thing of all for me was seeing the different way in which different people viewed our city and its attractions. Some images were straightforward representations of famous scenes, others were romanticised, some were surreal but nearly all were utterly compelling. So, yes, I don’t know much about art – but I do know what I like. And in this case, what I like (and very much) is this fantastic exhibition which I would urge as many people as possible to try to view over the next week or so. Our winning pic is here......

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

The end of the decade...what, already????

It came as something of a shock the other day to realise that we are a matter of just 12 weeks or so away from the end of this decade. Yes, not just the end of the year, but the end of a whole ten-year period.

Why I found this somewhat surprising is because in many ways it doesn’t feel as though we’ve ever properly defined this period at all and it seems odd to wave goodbye to a decade we have barely said hello to.

One of the reasons for the lack of identity for this time is that even now, as we enter the last weeks of 2009, nobody has really found a decent, universally understood name for it. We all have images flash into our mind the moment anybody says the 1970s (Abba, punk, Silver Jubilee etc), the 1980s (Thatcher, new romantics, the wedding of Charles & Di etc), or the 1990s (Oasis, the rise of New Labour and Britpop) but this decade’s name just doesn’t have the same immediacy. The phrase ‘the noughties’ just doesn’t do it in the instant-warmth, instant-memory sphere does it?

The truth is, when I think we do look back on the noughties (for that looks to be the name which will go down in history), I suspect any of its great music or cultural events will be dwarfed by the really bad stuff. Forget the Beatles being the enduring image of the 1960s, for instance; I’m afraid this past period will best be remembered for 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, climate change, economic meltdown and that appalling fellow George W Bush.

But, if the noughties were a bad dream best forgotten, what are we going into next?

Are we going into a nice easy-to- identify, well-named decade like the 20s, 40s or 80s again? No, of course not. Sadly, we’ve got another decade with an ‘identity crisis’.

The preferred name (apparently) for the next ten year stretch (2010-2019) is the ‘twenty-tens’. Others prefer the ‘two thousand and tens’, some go for ‘the tens’ and the odd person (well, me to be specific) prefers ‘the teens’. OK, I accept that ‘the teens’ is fine for the year 2014 but not so great for 2011 but, heck, I still like it.

Of course, the one thing that can cheer us all about the decade to come is that we can already see some bright lights on the horizon.

There is nothing in the America constitution that could allow George Walker Bush to stand again (although I understand there are more Bush’s lurking in the, err, bushes) and let’s not forget this country will be given an enormous boost in 2012 when we will have the Olympics and hopefully six years later if we get the football World Cup. Even if you’re not a sports fan, you have to admit that at least it’s something positive to look forward to after the pretty uninspiring and rather bloody decade we’re vacating.

The end of a period like this will, inevitably, mean a plethora of newspaper and magazine reviews where we look at the highlights and lowlights of the years gone by. There will be Best of the Noughties CDs galore and you can bet your life that the TV schedules are already bulging with retrospective programmes about a decade I suspect many of us will actually quickly want to forget.

So what has (apart from the truly gruesome things mentioned earlier) really defined the noughties in the UK? I personally suspect it will be the rise of reality TV in all its guises from Big Brother and X Factor to the reality-TV-for-people-who-claim-they-
don’t-like-reality-TV such as The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den. Such programmes have revolutionised TV and made everyone believe, sadly, that ‘celebrity’ is the ultimate profession to aim for.

So, reader, George W Bush and Simon Cowell could well be THE defining faces of the noughties.


Bring on the ‘teens’....

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Local newspapers are not biased lackeys. Honest!

Every editor of every local newspaper ever will at some point, (and usually quite frequently), be accused of being biased.

Because we live in a world where everybody has an opinion on everything, a lot of people assume that local newspapers (and their editors) are equally one-sided in their views and will do everything in their power to persuade others to follow it.

Well, guess what, – you are half right.

Yes, we journalists are as opinionated and passionate about causes as the next man but we are also a pretty professional bunch in the local media and we all subscribe to the view that the only bias we can ever exhibit is to our readers.

Opinions can be made in columns, blogs like this or in our Comment piece (and we are not shy of launching campaigns on issues we care about) but the news is 100 per cent untainted and totally free of bias.

I say this today because last Friday Bath (and the Bath Chronicle offices) had a visit from David Cameron.

The visit of the Tory leader provoked a lively debate on our website,, and it didn’t take long for someone to accuse my erstwhile opinion-free deputy Paul Wiltshire for being akin to a Tory lackey.

This, we found particularly amsuing, as a few weeks ago he had been called a Lib-Dem lackey as well. He is clearly therefore a lackey – albeit one who is awfully confused about his politics

I suffered the same at a previous newspaper I worked at in Tamworth, in the Midlands. That was a very tight Labour/Tory marginal seat and I was frequently told by the Labour lot that they knew that I was a Tory while the Tories equally said that they knew I was a Labour man. This to be proved that I was doing my job right – if all politicians think you’re against them, then you’re probably putting the interests of the readers above the parties. And that’s how it should be.

Returning to Mr Cameron, I can’t deny that I was very grateful to our local Conservative hopeful, Fabian Richter, for bringing his party leader into our office where I was able to chat to him about issues of concern in our industry and our community. He was kind, generous with his time and tried to meet and talk to as many of our staff as possible.

Even one or two dyed-in-the-wool Labourites (for yes, shock horror, our office is the same as every other in covering all political persuasions!) were quietly impressed I think.

I then went to hear Mr Cameron address the people of Bath at his very interesting and informative public meeting. He was put on the spot by local people on a wide variety of important issues and he handled himself extremely well to my eyes.

It says a lot, I think, about how politics has become so centerist that I mentioned to my colleague Paul (he’s the Tory/Lib-Dem lackey remember) that I think if you analysed what was said , you would not have heard anything from David Cameron that Tony Blair would not have said. I’m sure both Mr Blair and Mr Cameron would be pretty aghast by that comparison but the truth is there is a consensus in our politics today that means that sometimes it is different suit, different party – but the same words, themes and ideals.

Friday’s visit also showed that Bath is very much in the Tory’s sights. We already have a very good sitting MP I think (oh my God I’m being biased again!) but we also have a very strong Tory challenger too now (oh my God more bias!) and so next May/June's elections suddenly looks very interesting indeed ...

Please send all your accusations of bias in this article to

Beatles + Dan Brown = the power of the hype

OK, let me be the first to admit that I’m a bit of an advertising man’s dream because I’m a real sucker for a good hype.

A couple of weeks ago, for example, I joined the procession of people who headed for the record stores to buy copies of the newly re-mastered albums by The Beatles on the day of their release.

As is the wont of every serious music fan, I am a real admirer of all things Beatle and so I was mightily tempted by the re-release of all their classic albums in a new improved format. I therefore bought my copy of Revolver (just how good is Here, There and Everywhere?) and was most gratified when the charming assistant in HMV in Bath assured me I was one of many who had done the same on this much-hyped day.

So many others did the same, in fact, that a few days later the official album chart saw no fewer than four of these 60s written beauties in the top ten and a further seven in the top 50 charts. Amazing.

True, these are remarkable albums by a remarkable band and they do look and sound pretty nifty but the actual change to the CD quality isn’t that different to my uneducated ears and yet we have all fallen for this wonderful marketing hype.

But I didn’t learn my lesson for, yes, I was ‘hyping it up’ again the week after.

Along with many thousands of others, I had pre-ordered my copy of the latest Dan Brown book, The Lost Symbol. This is the much-anticipated follow up to The Da Vinci Code, that ridiculous piece of entertaining religious hokum which sold more than 80 million copies worldwide.

It is easy (OK, it’s actually very easy) to take the proverbial Michael out of Dan Brown’s somewhat simplistic way of writing but there is no denying this guy is a fantastic story teller and I had been snared by all that advanced hype yet again forcing me to purchase on day of release.

I am sure that part of the desire to get things like this on the day they are launched even if it does mean I have the words ‘hype victim’ tattooed on my brow probably stems from my journalistic desire to always find out something before everybody else.

I love to hear other opinions and read reviews but there’s nothing like discovering something for yourself and sharing your views with others before they do the same to you.

Indeed, returning to music, I think perhaps some of the magic has gone out of buying new material in that tracks are now played on radios and TV stations and YouTube weeks before release to tempt purchasers.

I much preferred the old way when normally the first time you would actually get to hear a record was when you bought it yourself and you became part of the advertising campaign all on your own.

Right, can I start the hype about the next (not even yet written) Stranglers album? Thought not.

Would you want to judge babes or babies?

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of being invited to be one of the judges at the Frome Agricultural and Cheese Show.

You may feel this is because of my expert knowledge about both agriculture and cheese. But your feeling would be wrong.
As a newspaper editor (and in this case it is with my hat on as editor of our sister papers, the Somerset Standard & Guardian), you are regarded as an independent person who can bring something fresh and unbiased to the judging table.

It is for this reason that over the years the words “judges include Sam Holliday” have been applied to a bewildering range of events.

I have judged (among others) dog shows, baby shows, short stories, rock bands, art competitions, firework posters, singers, young business people, newspapers, sportsmen and sportswomen, various personalities of the year awards and a somewhat embarrassing number of beauty competitions.

At each turn I’ve tried to be as independent and as bias-free as possible because I think as editor I am really there representing all our readers and therefore I have to be as impartial as possible and just look for the best in the various categories put in front of me.

I have to say that although it is a great honour to judge, it is not as easy as you think and particularly when you find yourself in the very dubious position of judging people by their looks.

Over the years I have helped to select a Miss Bath, a Miss Tamworth, a Miss Sutton Coldfield and a Miss Walsall. This may make me sound like an appalling letch, but I assure you I’m far from being so.

I’ve always been invited because we’ve tended to publicise such events and our ‘reward’ is a seat on the judging panel. The irony is, I sort of think this thing is all a bit outdated and I’m in the bizarre situation of feeling quite embarrassed at times in not knowing quite where to look . . .

In Bath, of course, all the young ladies who entered tended to be very articulate and intelligent and so we were able to judge people as a whole, as it should be, but I remember with a wince one of the years when I judged Miss Walsall, where, shall I say, there were more tattoos on view than GCSEs with oen or two of the ladies. I can still recall one horrible moment when I was in the men’s toilets during the interval and a very large man with less hair than a snooker ball said to me: “You’re one of the judges aren’t you? My girlfriend never got through the first round – are you saying she’s ugly?” The answer (of course) was I didn’t – but what could I do about the rest of those judges apart from recommend a trip to Specsavers?