Friday, 24 September 2010

The link between boxing and a Bath fashion show

Printed in the Bath Chronicle on Thursday, September 23

The link between amateur boxing and fashion shows may seem pretty unlikely – but stick with me on this.

What these two very different forms of entertainment have got in common is that they both require (and then instil) confidence in all those who take part in them. And it can be inspiring to see.

First, boxers.

A few years ago when I was a sports reporter in the Midlands, I used to enjoy going to watch my local amateur boxing club (the splendid Tamworth Amateur Boxing Club) have their regular dinner shows. Professional boxing, for various reasons, illicits wildly different reactions from people about its value and its morality but the amateur game is a million miles away from all of that.

When I used to watch the amateur game in full flow, you would see relatively young kids (of all shapes and sizes) battling it out in the ring safe in the knowledge that they were well protected in terms of their head gear and safe in the certainty that they were signed up to the amateur boxing ethos of sportsmanship and discipline.

Instead of bruised faces and bodies, I saw kids exhibiting pride, courage and bravery and, crucially, saw youngsters that may not have much weight on them or much physical presence, grow enormously as they stood in the ring. At the end of each bout I would look at the two lads that had been in action and think that tomorrow they could walk into their school with their heads held high for they had shown a spirit which did them great credit.

And so we fast- forward to last Saturday night here in the city of Bath to a catwalk – yes, light years away from that boxing ring at Drayton Manor Park.

These well-groomed ‘fighters’ were battling it out in the final of the Face of Bath competition to find a male and female to represent our city – and I was on the judging panel. Two weeks ago I had helped to select the finalists at a semi-final where each of the 40 people were required to walk on a makeshift catwalk. Some looked the part but the vast majority looked totally out of place – and quite a few looked simply embarrassed. They couldn’t possibly be turned into would-be models overnight, I thought.

Last Saturday, however, disproved that theory. Just a few hours in the very capable hands of choreographer Wayne Palmer had turned many from casual and often shy individuals into people who had the supreme confidence to parade up and down on a very, very long catwalk.

The transformation was remarkable and some people who looked in the semi-finals as if they could barely put one foot in front of the other, now glided down the catwalk in expensive, unfamiliar outfits and looked a million dollars.

Of course, like our boxers, not everybody could win but what those people showed on Saturday, as did those young fighters from so many years ago, was just how much confidence people can get if they believe in themselves and are willing to put themselves on the line in public. It also showed that you can’t buy confidence – but, hey, you sure can train it and instil it.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

My sad collection of looky-likies!!

The rise and rise of TV presenter Adrian Chiles is very good news for him – but not, I fear, for me.

For, over the last couple of years as the Black Country sports fanatic has risen to be one of the nation’s favourite sofa dwellers, more and more people have said that I either look/sound/act like him.

Somebody I know from going to concerts (hello Baz) actually now calls me Adrian and even my dear old auntie says that every time she sees him on the screen, it reminds her of me.

Now, I shouldn’t have a problem with this – I have liked Adrian Chiles ever since his Radio 5 Live work – but I’m sure when most of us men are told we look/act like someone, we are secretly hoping their surname is Cruise, Beckham or Pitt rather than, err, Chiles.

But I’m afraid in the world of looky-likes I am not exactly blessed with heart-throb comparisons.
It has been said more than once that I remind people of Keith ‘Cheggers’ Chegwin. This isn’t quite so bad as he comes over as quite a cheeky chappie but I could have done without the comparisons when he did that odd nude programme for Channel 5 a while back. . .

If being compared to these two TV darlings isn’t bad enough, I also get a fair amount of “you look a bit like Boris Johnson” these days.

Whether we are compared because of the blond and relatively uncontrollable hair or the fact that we both tend to like getting on political soap boxes or putting our foot in it I’m not sure, but that Boris connection appears to be sticking.

The reason I’ve been thinking on these matters is not just that my Mr Chiles has now secured the breakfast TV spot which makes him more in (or of?) my face but also because on Saturday I, (a man who apparently looks like an amalgamation of a Brummie ex One Show presenter, a man who leapt around on Noel Edmonds’ Saturday morning show and an unkempt blundering politician) is going to help judge the Face of Bath competition to find someone whose looks represent the city.

I already helped to judge the semi-final and I am rather looking forward to Saturday night’s SouthGate event where one woman and one man will earn the title of the Face of Bath and grab a modelling contract to boot.

I’m sure it will be a fun event but I can’t help wondering what the candidates will be thinking as they wander down the catwalk and think: “Just what is that odd looking Mayor of London fella doing judging me on my looks?”

Who really rushes in the rush hour?

As regular readers of this column may have noticed, I get very irritated about phrases that mean nothing. And I realised at around 8.15 on Wednesday morning in the centre of Bath that there is another annoying cliche I should add to my ‘don’t say that’ hitlist.

The two phrases that irritate me the most at the moment are ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it’ (if so, why bother having the cake in the first place?) and ‘I will give you a taste of your own medicine’ (well, that’s fine because it’s my medicine and why wouldn’t I want to taste it)?
Anyway, to these and many other silly phrase irritants, I would like to add another – ‘rush hour’.

This week, as we know, the vast majority of our school pupils and college students returned to their places of academia. This, inevitably, increased the volume of traffic on our roads but when it is also combined with the gas works taking place on one of the main roads into the city (the A4 from the Wiltshire side of town) it all combined to make the so-called ‘rush hour’ more like ‘might-as-well- be-sitting-in-a-car-park-hour’.

The truth is that over the past six weeks or so all of us who commute either short or longer journeys have been somewhat spoilt. I have long said that Bath doesn’t really have a traffic problem – it just has a school traffic problem. If I’m like many of you, my journey to work in the, ahem, summer ‘rush hour’ has been exactly half what it normally is in the winter. Yes, I know the city traffic is busy at other times but in that crucial hour between say 7.45am and 8.45am the difference between the way the roads move in term time and non-term time is as different as the chaos of say Wayne Rooney’s life to that of, well, anybody’s else's.

The Bath traffic, however, continues to dominate the local agenda. I attended a meeting in the city last Wednesday morning (and yes, I arrived well in time because most of the schools hadn’t yet reopened!) about future transport plans for the region and I was left once more totally convinced that not only does nobody have all the answers to our future transport needs but most people don’t even understand the questions.

The reality of the situation is clear – most of us accept that there are just too many cars on the road and we should all use more public transport but we do so in a totally theoretical way because having complained about the situation, we then jump into the sanctuary of our own private car and lustily switch on the engine.

As I said at my transport meeting (to the odd withering glance) I really want to see traffic in Bath and North East Somerset move quicker and with less stress for all but I can’t help wanting to ensure that it is YOUR car that gives up your space on the road rather than mine. And therein, I’m afraid lies the nub of the issue – many of us want to be part of the solution as long as that solution does not involve us having to give up our car keys.

So, as a dedicated motorist I can’t really complain can I? I guess I will just have to accept life as an A4 car park dweller and do my best to crawl along in the ‘rush hour’.

I wanna tell you a story...or 150

Originally printed in the Bath Chronicle on Sepetmber 2 to talk about the success of the Chronicle's first ever short story competition to write a story in 250 words in line with our 250th anniversary
Sep 2

When you launch a competition in the paper – particularly one that has never been done before – it is always with a certain amount of trepidation.

Will anybody bother entering? Will people take it seriously? And if nobody enters, is there a big enough cloth to wipe away the egg from my face?
ll of these went through my mind when we launched our short story competition as part of our 250th anniversary celebrations.

I came up with the idea of getting readers to write a story about TheBath Chronicle in exactly 250 words – it is not an easy task, not one that wouldn’t require a good amount of thinking and planning and certainly not one we had done before.

Would this be an idea like the Sinclair C5 or playing Emile Heskey up front – ideas that were just not meant to be?

Well, I need not have feared. When we closed the entries earlier this week we totted up that we had received more than 150 – a remarkable figure in my opinion as each entry took time and thought to produce.

What has particularly pleased me is the wide range of ages of those who have taken part. It is said that there is a good book (and presumably a good short story) in everyone and clearly age was no barrier in this context. We have received entries from people of all ages – schoolchildren, students, those in their 20s, 30s and 40s, a big batch from those in their 50s and 60s and then plenty in the 70-90 brackets too.

We deliberately asked for ages on the entry form to get a flavour of who enters and it was amusing to see how many people qualified their ages – ie, hello Dean Gallagher of Odd Down who is nine years AND ten months and also to Suzanna Mead of Southwick who is 41 but was keen to tell me that her son says ‘she looks 35’!

One of the other things we did was to make the subject matter for your story completely open and we’ve been astounded at the variety of subjects covered.

We have seen stories set in the past, set in the future, set on the day of Armageddon and set during a number of major historical events including the Second World War.

In addition we have seen all manner of odd chracters entering TheBath Chronicle newsroom with King George III, Beau Nash, Roman soldiers, talking lions and even the odd gull muscling in as our readers let their imagination run riot.

And now comes the tricky bit. Along with a number of my colleagues (who unwisely agreed to help me judge!) we’ve got to try to whittle down this amazing collection of stories into a shortlist – and it really won’t be easy.

There can ultimately be only one winner but I have been so impressed with the quality and breadth of the entry this year that I’m very tempted to make this an annual contest because clearly we’ve got some very talented story writers out there and it would be great fun to have this battle every year.

251 words next year perhaps?

Lights, cameras...(get into) action if you Love Bath !

Originally printed in the Bath Chronicle on Thursday, August 26 concerning the launch of the LoveBath short film competition
Aug 26

As regular readers of this column may have noticed, I am something of a film buff. From an early age I found every trip to the cinema to be a truly magical experience and even now as I sit in front of the big screen and the lights go down, I know that any problems I may have had as I walked into the movie theatre are completely gone for the next couple of hours as I totally lose myself.

It is for that reason that I’m particularly thrilled this week that we are launching a brand new competition to get people to celebrate their love of film – at the same time as celebrating their love of this amazing city.

For we have today launched our LoveBath film contest as part of our 250th anniversary celebrations where we’re inviting people to make a short movie set in Bath & North East Somerset in less than two minutes and 50 seconds. We hope it will inspire a whole lot of people to get out and about with their cameras and let their imagination loose on the streets of the city.

Of course Bath has famously attracted artists of all kinds throughout the centuries. Jane Austen remains our most prized artistic figure but there are so many others who have made their mark in our community via their writing, painting, poetry and indeed physical artworks up to and including the brilliant Pride of Lions which have lit up our city’s streets this summer.

Beyond that, Bath and all the other constituent parts that make up the B&NES umbrella has inspired a number of TV shows and films and it is often a pleasant surprise to spot well-known local places in the background or even very much the foreground on both the small and big screen.

Now we’re giving people a chance to add to that artistic legacy by making a film which is based in our community and which can be on any subject of people’s choosing.

Perhaps you think that the city regarded as the most romantic in the country would be a brilliant backdrop for a short romantic comedy? Or perhaps you would like to set a thriller in areas such as Larkhall, Twerton, Peasedown or Odd Down? Or, maybe you feel like doing a documentary or even a cartoon celebrating local sport, arts, culture or heritage? The choice is yours – the only limits are your imagination and the two minute and 50 second maximum length which we are imposing as part of our 250th anniversary celebrations.

You can find out more details about our competition at

If our film contest is half as successful as our other ongoing anniversary celebration – where we have invited readers to do a 250 word story set in the Bath Chronicle newsroom – we will be delighted.

When we launched this competition we had no idea how successful it would be but we’ve been absolutely staggered at the response as people of all ages have sent us a wide and often weird collection of short stories.

Well, now it is short films we want so what are you waiting for? Pick up the camera, put your ideas into action and you could be part of Bath’s proud film history.

Give our kids a break hey?

Originally printed in the Bath Chronicle on Thursday, August 19 - the day the A level results came out

Aug 19

Today, like many parents, I will be eagerly waiting by the phone. For, during the course of this morning, I will find out how my son has done in his AS levels and how my daughter has fared in her A-levels.

I’m trying not to put any pressure on them (hence I will keep them far away from this column!) but I’ve sensed in the last couple of days their tension rising as they prepare to go to school to collect those dreaded white envelopes.

My two are just like the hundreds of others in Bath and surrounding towns and villages who will be collecting their results over the next few days (the GCSE ones are due on Tuesday) and it is on days like these that I’m just so glad I’m no longer a teenager.

Personally, I think that the pressure on our 16 to 18-year-olds today is far more than I ever felt when it came round to exam results collection time. In my day (and yes, I do accept that is a phrase we always swore we’d never say when we were younger!) the pressure to do well in exams normally just came from yourself or possibly your parents.

Nowadays youngsters have to face incredible pressure to do well from not only their school but also, it strikes me, from society as a whole.

The school pressure comes from the fact that not only do our wonderful teachers (for I do have an enormous amount of respect for that profession) want to see their pupils do well for the sake of the youngsters themselves, but also because the school is under enormous pressure to do as well as possible in the league tables.

Personally, I hate those league tables as I don’t think they truly capture the whole essence of a school’s life – I’m sure there must be schools nationally with great exam results but where bullying is rife, for example, so how can that be a good guide?

However, many parents do take the tables seriously nowadays and because they have what I see as the ‘illusion’ of choice they are more likely to send their sons and daughters to schools high up the table. And that means teachers are desperate for their charges to do well to ensure they stay afloat in that artificial premier league.

And then we come to the pressure from society. It is not only in things like league tables that youngsters are judged these days but they also have to face the rather pointless but relentless claims that no matter how hard they work it is all irrelevant because the exams are so ‘easy’ these days.

So, unless something is very different today, most news bulletins will include phrases like ‘record results’ but will be swiftly followed by words like ‘amid claims of dumbing down’. This is poppycock.

It is virtually impossible to judge an exam today against one 10 years ago and even if it was possible then it is not the fault of youngsters – they don’t set the papers.

So let’s please try and give the students some respect if they do well. Let’s not spoil any celebrations our youngsters feel if things have gone well by sneering childishly ‘well, of course, they have, things are so easy at the moment. Just give ’em a break, hey?

Rant over. Phone at the ready.