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’....