Thursday, 20 May 2010

How can I be older than a Prime Minister?????

The phrase 'you know you're getting old when....' has been applied at the start of many jokes.
Among them are:

  • Your back goes out more than you do.
    It takes twice as long to look half as good.
    Your asleep but others worry that you may be dead.
Personally my favourite end to that particular line came from Scottish comedian Billy Connolly who said that you really know when you are getting old when you drop something on the floor and you make a noise when you start picking it up again.

Just try it - you'll see.

For me, however, I really, really knew I was getting old last week when I saw David Cameron enter the famous black door of 10, Downing Street.

For this was the first time that a Prime Minister - yes, a Prime Minister - was younger than I am.

How can this be I wondered? (I'm probably wondering it in the pic above actually...)
I still regard myself as a young man (well, mid-40s is still a bit young, isn't it?) so how come while I'm sitting here writing this, a man younger than me literally has his finger on the nuclear button?

Where did all those years go?
The thing about age is that it really does creep up on you unexpectedly and it jolts you when something that seems quite fresh in your mind is now regarded as 'nostalgia'

Take this week. The BBC has been showing a number of dramas about the 1980s and I particularly enjoyed the somewhat shocking but riveting account of the rise and fall of Boy George in the film Worried About The Boy on Sunday night.

To me this all seemed as it if was practically yesterday. The sound track of the early 1980s music sounded pretty contemporary even today, the apparently outlandish New Romantic fashions seemed pretty run-of-the-mill now and I knew many of the characters featured in the film because I had grown up with them. And yet this 'recent event' in my mind all took place nearly 30 years ago.

Yes, it was nearly three decades ago that Boy George first appeared on our screen on Top Of The Pops. I can still picture where I was when I first saw him and silently asked the question millions of us were thinking that night: 'Is that a girl or what?'

Of course, people say that you are only as old as you feel and I think there is something in that. In our paper we often write about people in their 60s, 70s or 80s who do athletic endeavours that would have frightened me ten years ago, and equally I'm sure we are all aware of what I would call 'young fogeys' - people who are worried about adult issues far, far too many years before they should.

So, I do hope that our new Prime Minister (and his fresh-faced deputy who is also depressingly the same tender age) have that vital mixture of youthful energy with a mature edge which should characterise their age to get them through.

I still think it seems incredibly young to be doing a 'proper' job like that though. Or should I just accept that I am older than I think I am?

Pass the Horlicks.

In praise of Bath City

This first appeared in the Bath Chronicle of May 13

Let's face it, this has been an amazing week.

It's been a week of high drama, shock results, dreams being shattered, dreams coming true and thousands of people being involved in the same communal event. No, for once, I'm not talking about the wonderful world of politics - I'm talking about that equally enjoyable modern drama: football.

Sunday turned out to be a red letter day for the beautiful game. The Premiership placings were (somewhat predictably) decided but none of those games could have been as tense and enjoyable as the one I witnessed along with thousands of others at Twerton Park.

For, on Sunday, Bath City, playing in front of their biggest crowd for some 16 years won a special play-off final which means that they have earned the right to play in the highest echelon of non-league football next year. It's the first time they will have tasted those dizzy heights since, ironically, Tony Blair came to power in another major political upheaval in 1997. And I'm sure they are looking forward to the experience every bit as the then fresh-faced Mr B did.

I've often thought it must be quite tough to be a fanatical football fan in such a rugby-dominated city as Bath. We are all, of course, quite rightly proud of the achievements of Bath Rugby - especially at the moment with their thrill-a-minute performances since Christmas - but Bath City are every bit as key to our sporting fabric as our rugby heroes. And it was wonderful that on Sunday they were in the limelight and had thousands of people at Twerton Park cheering them on. The fact that Bath attracted nearly eight times their usual gate was proof that this is a city which can sustain a big football club as well as a big rugby one.

For those who don't know too much about the complexity of non-league football, Bath will next year be playing in the Blue Square Premier Division which is, in effect,League Division Four. Most of the clubs who play in it - including many ex-league sides - are full-time and have large gates, large bank balances and lofty ambitions. In non-league football terms they really are the big boys and Bath are now proudly among them once again. Hallelujah.

The great thing about winning promotion is that, unlike say winning a cup, winning promotion gives you a season-long prize. Next season City fans will be visiting nicer grounds and watching better football week in week out. And theyn willl love it.

I am thrilled for everybody involved in this great football club. I'm thrilled for the players, the management, the club volunteers and the staff. But, even more, I'm thrilled for the fans.
Players, however loyal, come and go, but once you are a fan of the team, that stays with you for life, and so the loyal Bath City fans will now have their faith rewarded with a chance to have a weekly taste of the cream of non-league football.

So, well done Bath City. You are the pride of our community again and you have thoroughly deserved the smiles that were so evident on every face at around 4.10pm on that remarkable Sunday afternoon.

Why you should vote on election day

This lengthy election day plea to vote appeared in the Bath Chronicle on, well,
General Election Day - May 6, 2010

So, at last, the waiting is over.

Today, after weeks of official campaigning - and seemingly years of build-up - voters will be given the chance to place their precious cross alongside the name of the party and the candidate they want to represent them in Parliament from tomorrow.

And in this column we want to try to encourage every single reader who sees this article today (May 6) to exercise their democratic right and get out to vote.

The reasons why we are encouraging everybody to do their bit are manifold.

There are so many instances around the world where people have died fighting for the right to vote (and tragically some are still dying for this basic freedom today) that for us not to even bother to walk a couple of hundreds yards to a local polling station seems like an insult to those who dream of democracy.

Of course, there will be many who may say that they would like to vote but just can't find a party that completely represents all their views. That is a very reasonable argument but the truth is there is no such thing as a 'perfect political party' that will represent every single thing someone believes in. Political parties are by their nature broad churches of opinion so you are best just to try to find the one that most closely represents your aspirations and ambitions.

And of course, if you just can't get excited by any of the parties then do look at the individuals who you have a chance to vote for today. Don't forget we are not just voting for a Government; we are voting for a man or a woman to represent us in Westminster during the course of the next five years. Yes, political parties are important but the quality of our candidates has a role to play too so if you can't find a party that ticks all the boxes you would like, then judge the individuals over what you have seen over the last few weeks to see if there is somebody that comes closest to deserving of your vote.

Still struggling? Well, it is not a crime to actually vote for the 'least worst option'.

That may sound like a negative point of view but it is actually a positive one. It is showing that despite any doubts you may have you are making a positive decision to honour democracy and vote for the option that worries you least. That is entirely credible.

The most important thing of all to remember is that if you cast your vote then you have every right to have a say in what happens in the future. You sometimes get the impression that some people prefer the holier-than-thou approach of not voting for anyone so no blame can befall them if their party or their candidate does not live up to expectations. This is just a huge cop out.
We should ALL have an investment in an election and even if we vote for a candidate or a party that doesn't win, at least we can say if things then don't go as we would have liked, that we took part and we tried to make a difference.

All of the above would be applicable in any election but this year there seems to be an extra reason to believe that we should take every opportunity to exercise our democratic right and vote. IF the polls are to be believed (note the word if has been capitalsied!) then anything is possible in today' s election so every single vote could indeed count.

Your single vote for a bigger party for instance could count in swinging a seat which may be won by a tiny margin. Or, if you back a smaller party or independent candidate and enough others do, then the bigger parties may have to think seriously about whether the current electoral system of first-past-the-post can truly be a democratic way going forward.

This may, indeed, be the first election where there is no such thing as a 'wasted vote'.

So, as we enter the final hours of a truly exciting election campaign locally and nationally, can we ask all our readers who see this on May 6 and are over 18 to get out and vote? Your vote matters. Your vote counts. And this is your chance to prove that our democracy, though not without flaws, is still worth supporting and fighting for.

Three 'Question Times' - in one week!

This first appeared in the Bath Chronicle on Thursday, April 29.

Iam pretty certain that by tea-time on Saturday (May 1) Bath's election candidates will be pretty sick of seeing each other - and probably fed up of seeing me too.

The reason for this is that over the past few weeks those fighting for the Bath seat have been bumping into each other at various events at a number of different Question Time-style hustings events. These will continue this weekend with the candidates due to line up against each other at The Forum on Friday night and then at the Bath Royal and Literary Scientific Institution (BRLSI) on Saturday afternoon - both of which will be chaired by me.

Friday night's event has been organised by the Churches Together in Bath organisation and was, I understand, a huge success when a similar event was held at the last election. And then tomorrow afternoon's battle of words will see the attention switch to Queen Square where the BRLSI and the Bath and District Unlock Democracy group will be the hosts.

Both events promise to be very different but hopefully both will be very informative as well.

As for myself, I had a taste of the joys of chairing a hustings event on Monday night when I was with a different set of candidates - those battling it out for the intriguing North East Somerset seat at Midsomer Norton Town Hall.

I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed that first of my trio of debates this week and I was hugely impressed by the mature, intelligent and entertaining way the candidates engaged a packed hall. They treated all our questioners (as they treated each other) with real respect and I like to think that in our own small way we did a little bit of good for the local democracy on that night.

I can't guarantee that anybody changed their votes but I am pretty certain most people came away understanding the candidates and what they and their party stood for much better as a result of our time together. Job done.

What of course makes these sort of Question Time shindigs all the more intriguing at the moment is that no one has a clue about who is going to win the big vote a week today (May 6) so every single vote is precious and needs to be fought for with passion.

We have seen the impact those TV debates have already had on the big global picture but I would like all the candidates for the next couple of hustings to consider that if they make their mark during these local battles, they could really make a difference if the decision goes down to a handful of votes as many people are predicting.

So, I do hope to see a number of you on Friday night and Saturday afternoon and I hope you will have the chance to ask the questions you want to be heard. It's a great chance to make your mind up with all the candidates present about who deserves your precious vote.

Let the battle(s) commence.