Wednesday, 21 December 2011

It's A Wonderful Life when you can get to hear the real Zuzu!!!!

On Tuesday morning, driving into work, I got very excited when I heard someone being interviewed on the radio.

While many other people were probably tuning into other stations and getting exercised about the death of the Korean leader or the euro crisis, I was instead immersed in an interview with a woman whose name I didn’t even know but who has just happened to play a small but highly significant role in a cultural phenomenon which has always had a big impact on me.

For yes, I was listening to the voice of Zuzu.

You know –- Zuzu.

Zuzu of “Zuzu’s petals” fame?

Come on you must know!

If you are still wondering what on earth I am prattling on about (and fear not, I get that a lot) Zuzu was the name of one of the children in the ultimate Christmas film. It is mine and many other people’s favourite movie of all time – it is, of course, the truly magnificent It’s A Wonderful Life.

I got to hear the voice of the legend that is Zuzu – real name Karolyn Grimes – when she was talking to Nicky Campbell on Radio Five Live.

The ever-entertaining Mr Campbell is a man who has effortlessly interviewed world leaders, royals and stars of stage and screen and yet for once he seemed genuinely star struck and somewhat humbled. For he knew as I did that this was Zuzu – the one who said “every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings”.

And I shared his sense of awe.

It isn’t hard to see why this film means so much to so many and why it will have millions weeping into their Christmas puds as it is shown again over the festive period (it is also at the Little Theatre in Bath on Christmas Eve). It is just one of those remarkable films where once it gets you, you stay ‘got’.

I remember seeing it for the first time on a cold, wet Saturday afternoon when I was just keen to watch anything and it appeared unheralded on the BBC2 schedules. As I sat open-mouthed in admiration it became, from that day forth, (and it is about 30 years now) my number one film.

I watch it at least once a year and if I ever want to remind myself what a softie I am I will just watch the last 15 minutes again and blub like a Gazza. Frankly, if you don’t cry watching It’s A Wonderful Life it is not because there is anything wrong with the movie – it is because there is something wrong with you.

As Zuzu and Nicky Campbell pointed out this beautiful fantasy piece has a timeless quality. It features a man in financial problems (2011 – check) being screwed over by an evil banker (2011– check) who is only bought back from the brink by a loveable angel (2011 – err, not quite).

The thing that ‘saves’ him is to see what life would have been like if he had never been born and I can guarantee there isn’t a single person who will have watched this film who won’t have asked themselves that same question afterwards.

It’s life Jim, but not as we know it.

So I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas but if you do need a lift then just say hello to Zuzu and her petals again. Atta boy Clarence.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Feeling 'Christmassy'? No, well sing a carol . . .

Are you feeling ‘Christmassy’ yet?

This is a question that people often ask each other throughout December and it is usually, in my experience, asked by people who feel somewhat nervous that they aren’t yet in the ‘zone’ that leads up to December 25 and want reassurances others aren’t too.

I must admit I didn’t feel ‘Christmassy’ at all this year until – and I can almost name the exact time – about 6.40pm last Thursday, December 8. That was when I first heard the line ‘Away in a manger, no crib for a bed’ being lustily sung at the Chronicle/Rotary Club of Bath’s annual carol service at the abbey.

And it ‘got’ me.

For those who were around last Thursday night you will remember it was a horrible, cold, wet and miserable evening.

If ever there was a reason to not attend an event in the city centre on an evening, Mother Nature had provided the perfect one and it could have been entirely understandable if the abbey was half-empty for the proceedings.

But it wasn’t. Oh no.

There wasn’t a seat spare to be found and the abbey was packed to the rafters because people know that this annual city centre carol service is the one that can actually kick off Christmas for Bath people – and it certainly did for me.

The key to its success I think is revisiting much-loved carols in a communal atmosphere. There is something about Christmas carols that really seems to move people – whether they are regular church-goers or just those who attend such places for weddings or the odd funeral.

Our love for carols probably goes back to the fun of doing school nativity plays – a Christmas tradition that, if anything, seems to be getting stronger. Next week’s Chronicle will feature no fewer than 24 pages worth of pictures of such nativities and all will reveal the sheer joy that young people have in taking part in this special event at this time of the year. And no decent nativity is complete without a carol or two. There are many new ones these days –- and probably a lot of them are rather funkier than the ‘old faves’ – but the traditional tunes are still as popular as ever and just as nearly everyone still knows the Lord’s Prayer, everyone also seems to know what follows the words ‘the cattles are lowing’. . .

These tunes are just something in our consciousness now and you don’t have to be remotely religious to know that carols can touch the parts other spiritual songs can’t.

Of course, for many people the impact of even some of the ‘top of the pops’ in carol terms has been diluted by the fact they seem to be on a permanent loop in the shops at this festive time. You go from Noddy Holder in one shop to Hark The Herald in another and both, after a while, can get equally annoying.

But, put in the right context – and there is no possible better context than the Bath Abbey on a December evening – carols can truly touch the heart, lift the spirits and can really make people stop and think amidst all the other Christmas chaos around them about what is the actual ‘reason for the season’.

Christmassy? Yep, I am now.

Monday, 12 December 2011

The great fun of TV adverts - Sky plus-ed to death?

Last week I  had the pleasure of introducing – for its first ever big screen outing – the DVD film Bath The Way We Were which uses the Chronicle’s archive to back up a series of films which give a whistle-

stop tour of the city’s history.
The screening took place at the Little Theatre, in Bath, and its manager, Martin Jennings-Wright, came up with a wonderful idea of getting everyone into the nostalgic mood for the film by showing some long-forgotten TV adverts from the 1960s.

These ads were both a joy to behold – and something of a revelation. We saw Tony Blair’s father-in-law encouraging us to look smart by buying from ‘Temple man’, we saw Lulu (who I swear looks younger now than she did then), encouraging us to wear a particularly natty pair of shoes and we also saw a very detailed advert extolling the virtues of a new bra which showed a woman dancing and saying ‘when things get moving you need to stay in control!’

It’s fair to say they don’t make them like that any more.

The TV advert has been a staple form of entertainment since television began and the sheer quality of many of our favourites over the past few decades have surely led us all, at some stage, to say the phrase ‘the ads are better than the programmes’.

Sadly, however, I do fear that the art of a great TV advert is being missed by a whole new generation and that’s because of that marvellous invention we call Sky +.

Nowadays many people hardly ever watch a television programme ‘live’, they simply record it on their magic digi box and watch it at a more convenient time. And what happens as a result? They merely zap through those ad breaks and I think miss out on telling snap shots of our culture – let alone finding out about new products.

Of course you’d expect someone in my profession to promote the importance of advertising – and this I do – but I genuinely feel adverts can also bring their own unique pleasures. Think of the remarkable Guinness adverts which saw horses appearing out of the sea, think of Melanie Sykes asking if you would like “a flake with that” and think also of how tempted you were to buy R Whites after encountering the ‘secret lemonade drinker’.

Of course the odd ad still does get through and into the public consciousness. Think gorillas playing drums to a Phil Collins backing track or (if you must), those now hideously over-exposed meerkats. But, by and large, I fear the great days of communal TV advert enjoyment may have past. And if you see Sid, tell him . . .

Oh, one final point before you move onto the next programme.

The best and most artistic ads you see at this time of year concern perfumes and after shaves. There are some beautifully crafted mini-epics extolling the virtues of French-sounding fragrances urging us to buy into a glamorous image.

But surely, the only thing that matters is how these products actually smell? So, therefore, maybe the next invention we need for TV ads to come alive is smelly-vision television.   

It’s not to be sniffed at.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

I am sorry Gary Lineker for my Movember mistake

This appeared in the Bath Chronicle on December 1 - the day 'Movember' ended

I feel I owe an apology to Gary Lineker.

Ok, I know the splendid Mr Lineker will have no idea that I’ve apologised to him but I still feel I needed to publically get it off my chest.

And it’s all because of that curious but rather wonderful invention we call Movember.

Years ago, someone told me that Gary Lineker, he of Spurs, England and Match Of The Day fame, was incapable of growing a moustache or beard. I was told (and probably tellingly I can’t for the life of me remember who by) that he couldn’t grow any facial hair at all and that is why his chin always looked as smooth as a billiard ball when he was on the telly.

And I have told loads of people this 'odd fact you may not know about a celebrity' ever since.

So, when Movember began and someone suggested I tried growing a tash, I said I thought I would look ridiculous and said ‘no’. I also added that I actually wished I could be like that nice Mr Lineker and not have to even bother with dragging a naked blade over my face every morning.

So imagine how much egg yolk I felt on my still clean shaven face, as I watched Mr Lineker join in the Movember campaign and go on to grow more facial hair in  a few weeks than I think I could muster in six months.

Gary's Gillette-avoiding month is/was of course all for a good cause  – as it is with all the other people who have signed up for the Movember initiative.

If you aren’t aware, the idea of the Movember campaign is to get people to grow taches to raise funds to highlight male health problems – particularly sensitive cancers such as prostate and testicular. Men aren’t very good at talking about their health but when it comes to those difficult bits “down there” we find it even more uncomfortable.

So the Movember campaign aims to raise money to fight these cancers – and just as importantly get us talking about them as well. And that is why you will have seen many people sporting uncharacteristic facial growth during last month.

Of course, this situation does lead you into somewhat tricky situations.

At the Bath Chronicle business breakfast last week there were two particularly hairy ‘mos’ on offer but I had to gingerly ask both people if they were sporting them for the cause or not. If of course I got it wrong it it would be the equivalent of saying were they were wearing their lip adornment for a bet when it may well have been a prized permanent feature. And it could also lead to the sort of embrassment to be found by asking a slightly overweight lady when the baby was due...

The truth is moustaches definitely suit some people better than others and I have to confess I haven’t got involved in Movember because I’m convinced I would fall into the “others” category. I suspect I would look like some bad 1970s German porn actor with a wispy bit of blond fluff on top of my lip.

Of course, the whole point is it shouldn’t matter what you look like. It’s all about raising funds and awareness – and so I hereby offer my column/blog as part of that awareness campaign and salute all those braver souls than me who have collectively raised more than £50 million in recent years as a result of throwing away their razors.

Today, December 1, should see all those unwanted taches disappear but let’s hope, however, that debate about the male issues involved does not end.

We owe it to all the ‘mo’ wearers to keep talking – and I particularly owe it to Gary “The Tache” Lineker.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Center Parcs - a Center of excellence 12 months a year?

This is a travel piece about a trip to see if our local Center Parcs really can deliver in the winter as well as the appeared in both The Bath Chronicle and Somerset Standard - the Longleat resort's two local papers. 

As we all know, the British weather is an unpredictable beast. In recent years especially we have seen all sorts of bizarre weather patterns and hardly a month goes by without some bright-eyed forecaster telling us excitedly that we have just seen the hottest/coldest/wettest/ strangest month since (and here comes that legendary phrase....) ‘records began’.

And yet, despite the unpredictability we privately cherish, one thing has remained absolute in people’s minds – if you want to holiday in Britain you had better do it in the summer. Or, at a push, at least the spring or maybe a bit of autumn. But holiday in the UK in winter? Forget it.

For Center Parcs, however, that is one concept they have never accepted.

And so when they first hit our unsuspecting shores some 24 years ago, one of their keenest philosophies was that they would aim to provide holidays and breaks of the highest quality 365 days a year. July and August are big months for them of course but unlike our beloved seaside resorts so indeed are January and February. It’s an all-year round holiday offering and, luckily for us, we have one of them at Longleat, right on our doorstep.

I have been to the parks before but always in those summer months so when I got the chance to spend a weekend at Longleat to sample Center Parcs outside of the cricket season I enthusiastically took it. So many people have said to me that the Center Parcs experience truly comes into its own when the nights draw in and having now experienced a November weekend there I can fully see what they mean.

I made the ‘huge’ journey down the A36 (told you we were lucky!) mainly to see how Center Parcs embraces the Christmas period, which comes in the shape of their 2011 all-new Winter Wonderland. It is a six week celebration of snow, lights and Santa and is designed to make everyone feel in the mood for the big day while not detracting from all the other traditional, amazing attractions on offer at the site.

The Winter Wonderland this year includes everything from an outdoor ice skating rink, a sumptuous festive firework display and a woodland Santa visiting experience to a host of different practical activities including a chance to design Christmas gifts and baubles and even a cracker making workshop.

But just as importantly to my eyes is that the whole woodland site is given a lovely slice of fairy dust too and there are an array of beautiful, simple Christmas lights shining throughout and one or two elegant and expertly put together displays dotted around. Throw in Longleat’s own panto and Christmas activities at a lot of the restaurants and main attractions and you have a real feel for the whole festive period. And, as you would always expect with Center Parcs, there isn’t a hint of tackiness or overt cashing-in – it is all there to enjoy if you want it but if you are more of a fan of Ebenezer than Rudolph then you can simply enjoy the rest of your break without ever feeling you are an enforced extra in a Christmas TV commercial.

So, the Winter Wonderland clearly hits the mark but what about the park itself? Does it ‘work’ as well when the sun is a somewhat rarer visitor and can you truly have as much fun in the middle of November as the middle of the summer holidays?

Well, if my visit is anything to go by I say a hearty yes. To me the sheer beauty of Center Parcs has always been that you can do as much or as little as you want and yet you always return feeling you have been well looked after and been given a myriad of opportunities to stretch yourself and try a wide amount of different activities.

And the calendar has no impact on any of that.

As ever I was enormously impressed with two things that can make or break any holiday – the quality of the accommodation and the staff. Center Parcs treats each of its woodland lodges like hotel rooms rather than traditional holiday camp chalets or caravans and our lodge was scrupulously clean and had everything we needed to spend our break in comfort.

And the staff? Once again I was so impressed with everyone we encountered who showed professionalism and care at every turn - and considerable passion for their areas of expertise. As just one example we dined on the Saturday night at the impressive Grand Cafe where we all enjoyed great food in a lovely atmosphere. But what impressed us just as much was that our server (Phil) on seeing that one of our party wasn’t eating and hearing he had heartburn immediately came up with his own private solution/concoction that took away the problem in seconds.

It was thoughtful and kind and exhibited the qualities we saw in so many of the staff we met over the weekend, many of course who are local to our patch and hopefully may see this as a result.

The Grand Cafe was a splendid place to eat and there are plenty of other top choices too (we particularly enjoyed our trip to Oretga’s for a sangria-led feast to remember) but as with everything at Center Parcs you can spend as much or as little as you want.

It is entirely possible to have a totally self-catered weekend (an on-site supermarket helps) and although Center Parcs isn’t cheap – and I mean that in every sense of the phrase – it is possible to enjoy so much it has to offer without breaking the bank.

If you don’t want to sign up for the bewildering choice of activities/sports you can spend time enjoying the amazing free indoor water world – still the beating heart and soul of the whole park for many – or just wander or cycle around the site and revel in the fresh air, the many lovely trees and all the other beautiful natural attractions that only a park in such a glorious forest setting can offer.

At Center Parcs if you love nature then the best things in life truly are free.

However, if you do have a bit of extra money to spend there are so many amazing ways to spend it and I would recommend you think of booking them well before you arrive as seasoned visitors do.

My partner and I had three hours of total relaxation in the glorious Aqua Santa, a place to leave your problems at the door and just unwind at a spectacularly peaceful pace. There are plenty of top quality treatments on offer for that extra investment and my partner tried one of them – an unforgettable Facial Decleor Aroma Expert Facial. She left feeling a million dollars – without thankfully having spent that sum to feel that good.

If all that sounds too relaxed for you then fear not – Center Parcs has a massive list of indoor and outdoor sporting activities to try and once again the fact that so many of them are under cover means that even if that famed bad weather does its worse then Center Parcs can cope and can still provide you with a schedule of high-energy activities that would impress Action Man.

But you don’t have to just take my word about how good our local 365-day-a-year holiday truly is – the proof of the pudding (Christmas or otherwise) is when you eat up the numbers.

Center Parcs has had a particularly good year by all accounts and occupancy in these winter months is as high as any other times of year. And that is because with their well thought out range of activities, great eateries, superb settings and top quality accommodation choices, Center Parcs has pulled off that unique thing for a British holiday resort – it has created a weather-proof break.

So yes, Longleat may currently be enjoying a Winter Wonderland but as far as I can see it is a wonderland whenever you go.

Twelve months of the year this truly is a Center of excellence.

A 'typical' week in a newsroom? Hardly.

This originally appeared in my Bath Chronicle column on November 24 after a crazy week in the office....

On Monday night, November 21, I had the pleasure of talking to the Weston Local History Society on the subject of the local and national media – past, present and future. It was, hopefully, an informative evening for everyone but there was one point when I was literally lost for words. And that was when one of the members asked me to describe ‘a typical day’ in the life of an editor or a newsroom.

The reason I couldn’t answer immediately is that I realised there is no such thing as a typical day and although we are governed by strict deadlines, what happens between the end of one week’s paper and the publication of the following weeks is totally unpredictable.

And this week has really proved the point.

I was away for a few days last week, only popping back into the office in advance of the Christmas light switch on. I therefore expected that on Monday all the talk would be about John Cleese and the Christmas extravaganza but by the time I came in again the agenda had moved and we have gone on to have a truly remarkable week in the newsroom which really reiterates why the best jobs are those where you never quite know what is going to happen next.

For a starter, we were very short staffed due to holidays and sickness. We all assured ourselves we could cope – and cope we somehow have – but what we weren’t expecting was the astonishing amount of important news stories that had flowed into the office for our small team to deal with.

As hopefully you will may seen in the paper of November 24, it was a big week locally filled with both tragedy (the story of the soldier David Boyce killed in Afghanistan and the sad story of the woman who died at a Bath petrol station) but also with triumph in the shape of the light switch on which brought the whole community together – as did the moving march through our city by the servicemen returning from the Middle East. Throw in the fact that we had some fascinating news about expansions to two of our biggest supermarkets, an RUH fire, the build up to Bath City’s big FA Cup match and so many other stories that  put the whole team on full alert and that really was a week where I can feel even more proud than usual of the small but dedicated team who do everything they can to give you the best possible newspaper, website and Twitter updates.

Of course, we can only produce the news service we do by the fantastic support we receive from you all as our readers and this gives me one of those rare chances to say thank you for that. We care passionately about our community and because you also care passionately about how your community is represented this ‘teamwork’ means we can hopefully always rise to the occasion on weeks like the one we have just seen.

I was out talking again on Friday, November 25, this time to a group of students at Kingswood School about journalism. And one of the points I  made to them is that this is a job where you never quite know what is going to happen next and that is why it is so hard to answer the question ‘what is your typical day’.

And next week? I have no idea.

Monday, 28 November 2011

John Cleese is a comedy legend. Discuss.

This originally appeared in the Batrh Chronicle on November 17 - the night John Cleese switched on the Bath Christmas Lights

Tonight, thousands of people will line the streets of Bath to see the comedy legend that is John Cleese officially kick off Christmas in the city at the lights switch-on.

It is easy to throw around the word “legend” but I think the instantly-recognisable Mr Cleese deserves the term because he has genuinely touched everybody’s funny bone at some point in his career. And with comedy being every bit as subjective as music and art, that is no mean feat.

For many of us, of course, Mr Cleese will always be the tall spindly-legged one from the greatest comedy team ever assembled – Monty Python. Legions of teenagers have discovered Python and made a lifelong pact with them, and few groups of men of a certain age cannot do verbatim impressions of pet shop owners selling parrots, Yorkshiremen explaining how tough their lives were or people trying to stay optimistic while being, ahem, crucified.

And yet not everyone got it. No siree. For every Python devotee you can always find a nay-sayer, a non-believer for whom the knights that say Ni were just, well, silly (which, of course they were, which is the whole point). But silly without being funny. And from my experience (limited I grant you but stick with this) most of them were female. Monty Python is, I believe, predominantly a male manuscript of funny. And if you don’t agree with me I will hit you with a big fish while standing next to a canal.

So, to some heretics Monty Python wasn’t a feast of hilarity, so Mr Cleese & Co couldn’t be “comedy legends”. But then came Basil Fawlty. Trying to find someone who didn’t find that funny should be as hard as finding someone who thought a rat was a hamster or a chef who is fresh out of Waldorfs. Often voted the best sitcom of all time and repeated as often as the weather forecast, Fawlty Towers made our light switch-er-on-er a national treasure.

Our man’s status as a comedy legend was therefore sealed in that Torquay hotel reception – but if you are still not convinced then I give you the films. Aside from Python’s big screen outings (which are their best work anyway) I offer you the twin peaks of A Fish Called Wanda and Clockwise, two beautifully crafted, expertly written movies that were both funny and intelligent – something sadly which is often mutually exclusive.

Among all that – and I haven’t even mentioned the books, tours, film cameos or, er, AA adverts – there is something for everyone and that is why I feel we have something quite unusual in front of us tonight – a man that has probably made every single one of us laugh at different times. And how many other people, past or present, can we truly say that about?

Of course, I am sure none of this debate about his status means a fig to Mr C and he is just happy that he can still make people smile. But in a world where none of us seems to agree on anything, to have someone do their bit for Bath who is so universally admired and respected and whose work will be making people laugh when we have all sang our last Always Look On The Bright Side of Life chorus, should give us all a warm feeling, no matter what the temperature is tonight.

So what is the new 'is the new'?????

This originally appeared in the Bath Chronicle on November 17

I’m sure we are all aware of that strange but now well-worn cliche where people describe something as being the ‘new’ something else.

We’ve all heard phrases such as ‘brown is the new black’ and ‘staying in is the new going out’ and just a quick check on the internet revealed other such curious uses of the term such as ‘green is the new red’, ‘Bono is the new Pope’ and ‘climate change is the new fat’.

No, I don’t get them either.

However, as readers of this column/blog will know, I’m not worried about rehashing cliched phrases so I’m going to give you two more ‘is the new’ phrases to add to your library.

The first is one I heard on the radio recently when the boss of Marks & Spencers was talking about his company’s latest financial results. He said that their range of meals for two had done particularly well because “Saturday night is the new Sunday lunch”.

His argument is that as society has changed and the traditional Sunday lunch where all the family gather around a table has become less of a permanent fixture, many such communal eating gatherings are now on a sofa on a Saturday night as we consume The X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing along with our chicken and steak.

And I think he may have a point. The Sunday lunch ritual was once as clearly defined in my grandparents’ household as a religious observation and the idea of my nan, for example, not having a highly traditional roast with the family around at almost exactly the same time every single week was as unheard of as, well, an X Factor without someone saying “this means everything to me . . .”

So is Saturday night the new Sunday? Not quite I think. But perhaps not far off.

However, I am prepared to offer you my own ‘is the new’ based on my reflections of last week. And that is that in the UK now Hallowe’en is the new Bonfire Night.

When I was growing up, the anticipation for November 5 was enormous. Everybody talked about where they would be – be it at a major organised event such as the excellent one at The Rec at the weekend or in the back garden with a few sparklers – and Guy Fawkes night was a big, big occasion. Hallowe’en? A side show ignored by all but real witches I imagined.

Now, however, the tables are turned. I can’t remember a quieter build up to November 5 than this year (although it was with some gratitude that we didn’t have to hear people setting off fireworks for weeks before the big day). OK, the night itself still seemed lively enough but compared to November 5s of old it felt as if the flame was going out.

And yet look at Hallowe’en now. For weeks supermarkets had been selling all kinds of ghoulish outfits and large packets of mini chocolates for us to distribute to trick or treaters and you get the impression youngsters have really circled October 31 as their big autumn date now with good old November 5 as a mere dessert on the menu.

Ah well let’s just hope some things never change. Let’s hope no one says something ‘is the new Christmas’ and also that no one ever claims that anywhere ‘is the new Bath’.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Jim fixed it so none of us knew him - but we all knew his work

It is said that everyone remembers where they were when they heard the news that Princess Diana had died. In fact, I suspect that all of you who are reading this, just had that image flash into your mind. And depending on your musical taste and age, I imagine the same could be said for some about hearing of the demise of John Lennon, Elvis Presley or Michael Jackson. Some deaths, especially when they’re cruelly premature, are as defining a memory as that person’s life.

In years to come, however, I suspect not everyone will be able to instantly recall the moment they heard that Sir Jimmy Savile had passed away. I was in the car heading to Bath and although I immediately stopped and rang my partner to tell her, I didn’t give it too much more thought at the time.

Strangely, however, as a I read various tributes over the ensuing days, I started to think more about Mr Savile because I realised that he was one of those very rare creatures that we all thought we knew but none of us really did. At all.

The legendary DJ was a remarkable self-publicist and for many decades his face and his catch phrases were engrained on the public’s consciousness. We all thought we knew exactly what ‘good old Jim’ was like but the reality is none of us really had a clue.

And that’s what makes him such an intriguing personality – in death as well as in life.

As I read some of the things he did during his 84 years, it reminded me a lot of my favourite character in my favourite film – George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life. In that movie George is given a chance to see what life would have been like if he had never been born and it was truly astonishing for him to realise (and for us to realise in our own lives through him) just how many people we touch during our relatively brief time on earth.

Jimmy Savile’s life touched thousands of people. Yes, he ‘fixed it’ for lots of youngsters to meet their heroes in his long-running show and yes, we will always remember his Top Of The Pops appearances and his radio work but his real ‘work’ will surely be that through his actions he helped to raise an estimated £40 million for Stoke Mandeville Hospital.

He used the fame he knew he had to publicise the causes he supported and to raise as much money as possible. And if it meant at times that his bizarre behaviour and outlandish look made us all secretly mock him, he didn’t mind as long as we were still putting our hands in our pockets as we did so.

Jimmy Savile was a genuine one-off, a genuine British eccentric. A man who did so much caring work yet claimed to have no emotions and no close friends and someone who kept all his mother’s clothes after she died and had them dry cleaned annually. He was an odd character in every sense of the phrase but a character he was nevertheless and if you ever doubt that he deserves to be remembered, I suggest you pay a visit to Stoke Mandeville Hospital and see what one eccentric can actually achieve.

Oh and can I ask people not to make Jimmy Savile jokes now? That means you and you and you.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Sign up to my (pointless) epetition

Today, ladies and gentlemen, I invite you to join me in helping to change Government policy.

No, I’m not standing for election but I have just submitted an e-petition to the Government and if 99,999 of you join me, its contents could be debated in Parliament.

And the subject of my e-petition?

To abolish e-petitions.

The reason for this stems from last Monday’s vote about the EU referendum. I don’t have a view on the referendum one way or another to be honest but I do have a view that we were conned that we could get ‘our causes’ properly debated.

The reason there was a vote at all is because the Government (rather naively) said that if 100,000 people could sign an e-petition on any subject, it may end up debated in the House of Commons.

And so it duly happened on Monday as we saw 81 Conservative MP’s – including our own Jacob Rees-Mogg – rebelling against their Government and voting for a referendum. It didn’t mean the vote was won, of course, but if nothing else it gave Mr Rees-Mogg a possibly one-off chance to be associated with Che Gueveara and James Dean as a modern day rebel.

The serious point behind this, however, is that it proves that the Government doesn’t really want to debate the subjects of your e-petitions. 100,000 plus people asked for a referendum vote, 80 Tory MP’s risked their own careers to support the venture but the three main parties all stamped on it. A vote of success for e-petitions? A genuine act of democracy?

Neither of the above.

The truth is the whole e-petitions concept is nonsense. It isn’t about encouraging democracy, it is paying lip-service to it and I wonder at the end of the whole five years of this Parliament just how many of these on-line petitions will actually change policy.

I suspect it will be somewhere between none and zero.

After the vote I went onto the e-petition site and found a mind-boggling 426 pages of them. There were dozens of pages where just one solitary person had signed the petition – including one calling for financial help for spectacle wearers, one calling for a tax on bad rap music and one, from a no doubt frustrated 16-year-old, calling on the Government to scrap algebra from GCSE Maths.

As well as these slightly more, ahem, fringey ideas, there were literally hundreds of others about more serious issues, any of which I believe with a big viral campaign could actually generate 100,000 signatures if there was enough will. It’s all a pointless exercise.

It’s pseudo-democracy.

So, I decided to do something about it. Last Wednesday morning I sent my own e-petition off to the Government entitled ‘Call to stop pointless e-petitions’. It took all of about five minutes to fill in and I’ve now submitted it to the Cabinet Office and will await to see if it is taken up.

Frankly, I’m not completely convinced it will be but if it is it only takes one more person to agree with me and I will already double the tally of that algebra chap.

If you would like to support mine or any other e-petition can I suggest you head for And remember – together we can (not) change things.

STOP PRESS - Since putting this article in the Chron last Thursday (and having at least two whole people promise to sign up in a positive avalanche of support) I have heard that the Government won't accept my petition asd its aims wwer enot clear enough. Yep, I guess something called 'Call to stop pointless e-petitions’ is pretty misleading!!!!   

Thursday, 27 October 2011

An interview with Adam Ant - king of the anthill

(This is a longer, more in-depth version of my interview with Adam Ant than the ones that appeared in both the Bath Chronicle and Somerset Standard and Guardian on Thursday, October 27).

Adam Ant is definitely a man who has experienced the true highs and lows associated with the entertainment industry.

In the early 1980s he was probably the biggest and most instantly-recognised pop star in the country with his singles regularly racing to the top of the charts and his fashion copied by thousands of wannabee youngsters. In addition his picture adorned the walls of millions of teenage bedrooms and his videos were as eagerly awaited as the next James Bond film.

The creator of Ant Music was truly at the top of the ant hill.

Life was good. 

And, although the initial Smash Hits inspired satuaration coverage inevitably calmed down as he left his Ants behind and went under his own steam, he continued to make exciting, evocative music and seemed comfortable in his new skin as a respected solo artist.

Then, however, it all went terribly wrong.

As the pressures of trying to live up to the commercial demands of his industry took their toll, he sunk deeper and deeper into an over-riding depression and ended up being sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

It was a terrible time for the former King of the Wild Frontier but thankfully those dark days are now behind him and he is now back, stronger, happier and healthier than ever before and on Thursday November 10th he kicks off a major nation-wide tour with a warm up show at the Cheese & Grain Frome on Thursday, November 10 before he hits Bristol the following evening.

And back on stage is where Adam knows he belongs.

“To me it’s all about the audience - getting out there and playing your hour and a half. It’s great you know.

"I play all the catalogue, dropping in a couple of new tracks from the next album and  up to now I’ve been spending time just trying to get those songs right. They’ve all been created in the studio and are difficult songs to perform live. But I’ve got a great band so that’s really all I can hope for.”

Adam knows that he will never be able to escape his musical past – and nor does he want to. So, yes, the show he’ll be putting on will include some of the hits that defined a generation but there will also be lots more challenging tracks and previously unheard ones from his new solo work due out at the start of 2012.

“I’m going to put on the sort of show I would want to see if I was going to see someone that I liked. There will be stuff from my 'growing up' period with early stuff and B sides, latter solo songs and some new material. The hardest thing is actually leaving songs out -  we’ve got so many songs now  that we could literally play a three hour set if we wanted to.”

Adam’s enthusiasm for music seems as insatiable as ever but he says he feels more focused now than ever because he has total control.

Not only will he be doing the song writing and leading his band but his next album will come out on his own label -  to which he has already signed some kindred spirit acts. His aim, he says,  is to create something different from the manufactured pop that he sees around him.

“I think the music scene’s bit wide open at the moment, a bit soft. I’m trying as much as I can to show it is all about the song writing and the music - something you can’t get from the charts now because of the karaoke-based kind of mediocrity put up by the likes of Simon Cowell.

"When the current music industry predominantly is run by one person who doesn’t really adjust very well you’re in trouble. There’s not many brave bands out there at the moment who are willing to take a risk."  

Although it is the music that drives him, Adam knows that he is as well-known in recent years for his off stage troubles as for the great singles and albums that defined him.

He says he has become something of a poster boy for the subject of mental illness but having experienced a decade of treatment and anti-depressants he says he feels he has a duty to do so to try and inform and educate people.

“With any success there’s always a price to pay. I was 20 when I first started selling albums which was kind of signing your life away. Then they had me on magazine covers, doing several singles plus one album and two tours a year so by the time I took time out to act I was quite relieved to get away from it all.

"I feel a lot of my illness was just down to exhaustion and I ended up not knowing where I wanted to go creatively. You have to be quite fit to produce creatively - you can’t be like a robot. That’s one rule that’s changed now in that I’ve learned to do things at my own pace and say 'no' . That's good.

"This whole area is a subject that comes up in every interview now and I feel duty bound to explain that mental health is  not a disease, it’s an illness and it’s a curable one. I’ve finally managed to encourage a couple of high profile friends of mine in the business to try and stage a major television debate on a prime channel at a good viewing time for the public to actually watch and realise that it’s not the end of your life, it’s not a taboo and you shouldn’t be ashamed of it.”

Adam has clearly thought about the issue deeply and he said although he can understand why celebrities suffer from these problems, he thinks it shouldn’t take away from 'ordinary' people who are also going through it.

“I think the problem with lots of celebrities when they’ve done too many drugs or are completely messed up they can go to the Priory and claim bi-polar and that is something I don’t have a lot of sympathy for. I’m more concerned with mums and kids at school suffering either as a result of what’s going on at home or too much examination pressure.

“It seems easier for some people to put those in trouble on the couch with Jeremy Kyle and fill them with a gut full of anti-depressants which turn you into a zombie anyway. Anti-depressants are important in an emergency but they don’t wean people off them and it becomes their lifestyle and that ain’t right.”

Despite everything he’s gone through, Adam now feels he’s in a fantastic position and simply can’t wait to hit the road again – and hopefully see his new album connect with his now very wide-ranging audience.

“I didn’t become a man until I had my daughter and suddenly things got a lot more serious. I see myself as very fortunate now. I’m as healthy as you can be and that is important as you need a lot of physical and emotional stamina to go on stage and have 30 songs in your head and perform them differently every night. But I love it”

Adam Ant is clearly a man on a mission. He wants to entertain and excite his audience as much as ever and the fact that he’s managed to overcome some huge hurdles in his personal life will only make all those that come to watch him at Frome and elsewhere appreciate even more the man who really put the music into Ant Music.

Doors for the Frome show oepn at 7.30pm and under 14s must be accompanied by an adult.

Tickets cost £26.50 in advance or £30 on the door.

To book tickets call the Cheese and Grain box office on 01373 455420.

Sam Holliday

Thursday, 20 October 2011

A (tv) licence to kill your patience

It has often been said that I’m not the easiest person to get a hold of.

As I am often flitting in and out of my office or attending meetings and events (and I’m certainly not one of those people who has their mobile phone surgically attached to his body) I have been told that getting hold of me can be difficult at times. But, compared to one leading agency I’ve encountered this week, I’m as easy to contact as if I stood in Milsom Street with a sandwich board reading ‘Here I am, come and talk to me.’

I’m in the process of helping with a house move which has involved contacting all kinds of different people to change direct debits, addresses etc. etc. By and large it has been a successful, comfortable venture – until that is I came up against the seemingly humble TV Licensing people.

The first thing I did to try and make changes was to look up the TV Licensing agency on the internet to find a telephone number to call them. However, this was my first mistake.

If you want to find a number may I suggest that you don’t go on their website because no matter how hard I looked I could not find one. And no, none of the questions I wanted could be answered by their “sample questions” (i.e. the-save-us-having-to-talk-to-you-section) and I didn’t want to be engaged in an email exchange. All I wanted was to speak to a normal, functioning human being.

With the website alone you had no chance.

So, I Googled ‘TV Licensing phone number’ and was directed to three different companies that all wanted to charge me quite a lot of money to talk to them. Eventually, I did track down a free (?) number because someone who was obviously equally frustrated had asked one of those online questions sites how to do it and so I rang this number and hoped this would be the end of the problem.

As if.

I had committed the cardinal sin of not having my TV licence number to hand and so therefore every time I tried to get through the Berlin Wall of recorded messages before I got within touching distance of an actual homosapien I was met by a very nice voice informing me that they “didn’t understand what I wanted to do”. I stood my ground for seemingly ages before eventually being redirected to another set of options, which in turn led to another set of options and then a final set of options before I finally got to speak to, yes, a human being.

Sorted? Well, no.

This gentleman, although very helpful, couldn’t do what I needed over the phone and suggested I went to the website instead (no!!!) or wrote a letter.

So later in the day having finally unearthed my TV license I caved in and went back on the oh-so-helpful website again and despite all my hopes that this would be the end of the story, the site kept informing me that amidst all the information I had correctly keyed in there had been a mistake. I then  retried loads of times before eventually being informed I could do no more as my application was now in process. So no mistake then at my end after all - but as I wrote this I still don't know if the simple changes I needed to make have gone through.  Result? Utter frustration.

What all this told me (apart from the fact that the TV Licensing’s cuddly ads about how easy it is to sign up to enjoy the Beeb is funnier than most of their comedy output) is that you really cannot beat the simple system of ringing someone up and talking to them directly. Virtually all the other agencies/utilities I’ve dealt with do it – why can’t they all realise it is the only way?

Oh well, I suppose I could just try living without a TV and radio. But how on earth could I ring to tell the licensing people I wanted out?

Monday, 17 October 2011

Blogs - people really do read them you know.

Like I suspect many of you, I enthusiastically kept a teenage diary outlining all the details about my life, my loves (or to be honest lack of them) and my record collection.

I would ramble away in my diary for hours at a time, safe in the knowledge that no one else would ever read what I had committed to paper. The day my diary actually died was when I showed my girlfriend at the time what I’d written, and realised at that point on that I could never be truly honest again because I may have to tailor my thoughts to any future possible readers.

Nowadays, however, I suspect most people don’t bother with a pen and paper diary, they blog online instead. Blogs, of course, are very public which seems to fly in the face of the privacy of a diary but as there are millions of them out there, you probably feel quite safe that the only people who are going to find your material are those that you are happy to share it with.

Or so I thought.

At the end of 2008 I set up this blog which I called Bath’s Big Ed mainly as a way for me to collate my weekly Chronicle articles in one place in cyberspace. I initially told a few people about what I was doing (many of whom probably dipped in once and never returned) and I’ve also advertised it a couple of times in my weekly paper column but, by and large, I always thought that my blog was something mainly for me but I would be happy if a few people occasionally stumbled on it.

However, a couple of weeks ago I had a shock.

My blog providers – Blogspot – have now come up with a great new system to monitor your web traffic and I can only express my amazement that in the less than three years or so I’ve been committing things to my blog, it has been viewed 10,400 times.

Now in the grand scheme of things (and when I think of how many people read our paper for example), that’s not a huge number but I’m still genuinely stunned that so many people have found their way to the blog – however inadvertently.

The amazement continued when I saw where the audience was from. More than 4,500 viewings came from this country but that immediately told me that nearly 6,000 didn’t, which is crazy when you think most of the things I write about are focused on the Bath area. The most popular countries after the UK are the US and Germany but then comes three countries about which I’ve never written a word – India, Ukraine and Russia.

Odder still, further delving into my blog stats showed that in the last week alone two viewings were from Iran and one from Finland. Eh?

What this means oh reader (whether you’re in-print in Bathwick or online in Bangladesh) is contrary to what you may think people do read blogs – even with millions of them out there.

As a tip, the really well-read pieces seem to be those that have strong key words so if you do have a blog and want to increase your readership in either Burnley or Borneo, then that is the area to concentrate on.

One thing’s for certain - I really am glad I didn’t blog my teenage diary. For those of you who do/did – beware!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

The Leaders' speeches - you have to walk the walk as well as talk the talk

On Wednesday afternoon our esteemed Prime Minister stood up to make what was possibly his most eagerly-anticipated and listened to speech of the year – the leader’s address to his party.

The annual spectacle of our party leaders making these keynote speeches has long been among the most talked about political events on the calendar. And, as someone with a fascination for all things politics, I’ve spent more time than I dare to admit over the years watching, absorbing and analysing the speeches of the bosses of our three main parties.

We are told (and of course it is right) that politics should be more about principles than personalities but the truth is in a modern media-obsessed world, it is how people say things as much as what they say which has impact on a population largely bored with the whole political arena.

Get it right and you can truly change people’s perceptions of you and your party – get it wrong and you have 12 months to regret it.

A truly great political speech can, of course, stay in the mind for years after. I can still remember the dramatic moment when Neil Kinnock almost began the path that would lead to New Labour by taking on Militant in an exhilarating speech. I can recall vividly the moment David Steele told his Liberal colleagues to go away and start preparing for Government (and at the time it seemed like an entirely credible thing to say). And I can also remember the famous moment when Margaret Thatcher told a delighted audience that she was “not for turning”. All great, defining moments in great, defining speeches.

And, of course, there are the not-so-great-moments. I can still recall feeling a certain amount of sadness for the decent but over-promoted Iain Duncan Smith when he told us not to underestimate the quiet man. In reality we were absolutely right to do so. I also still wince when I think of the awkward embarrassment of Gordon Brown’s attempted jokes (remember the cracker about him being more interested in the Arctic Circle than the Arctic Monkeys?), and who can forget Tony Blair’s “sweatgate” speech when virtually everything he said was almost literally drowned out because he sweated so much it looked like his shirt was still in a washing machine.

To be fair though, Blair was a man who really could deliver a leader’s speech and, whether you liked him or his policies or not, you could see that he became a master of his lectern craft. I also rather liked John Major’s understated but eloquent approach to his big speech and Paddy Ashdown used to bring a smile to my face because he came over as a man with passion and principle – but humour too.

And what of the current lot? Well I think David Cameron is a very good, impressive speaker (although I doubt this week's speech will be in an all times great list) and I thought his Coalition deputy Nick Clegg, not always the most accomplished behind the mic,  gave one of his better speeches this year as he sought to calm some of the nervousness among the faithful.

As for Labour, I do think that their leader Ed Miliband still has some work to do. I can’t help feeling Labour got the wrong brother – they wanted Noel and ended up with Liam. What’s the story – electoral non-glory?

Of course, as I say this isn’t (and shouldn’t be) a beauty competition, but the truth is the public now want the “complete package” in a leader. Sadly these days they have to walk the walk as well as talk the talk...

Thursday, 29 September 2011

So, are you Downton or Spooks?

In days gone by, facing a ‘TV schedule clash’ was a very serious business.

If there were two television shows you desperately wanted to see (and Betamax video recorders hadn’t been invented let alone Sky+), then you simply had to miss one of the programmes. It would often cause fury and debate within the national press as people let off steam about those horrible, faceless TV schedulers who had so little respect for people’s viewing habits. How dare they!

Of course, nowadays this shouldn’t happen. Most people have ways of recording two or even three shows at the same time and many people almost ignore the TV schedules now and record shows to watch when they actually want to.

Even so, there is still something about watching a programme at the same time as you know others are watching it, particularly if you know it will be the subject of the office, school or bus stop conversation the following day.

In recent years that particular ‘what to watch’ battle has been fought mainly with Strictly Come Dancing and X Factor – the big Saturday night battleground –- but now those pesky schedulers have done it again by plotting two of the most engaging modern TV dramas up against one another in the normally genteel 9pm Sunday slot.

For, as you will have seen from debates in the press and on the radio, we are still capable of getting angry when two highly-watchable shows go out at the same time and that is certainly what is happening at the moment with the battle between the modern day Upstairs Downstairs – Downton Abbey – and that wonderful spy feast Spooks.

Although both shows have been criticised for not being completely accurate in terms of the scope of the areas they cover, what unites them both is they are just great fun and real ‘talkabout’ TV.

Downton is glossy, colourful, bright and expensive to look at (all of which makes it something of a surprise that it is on ITV) while Spooks has been a genuine televisual feast for many years now and has made us all feel safer in our beds knowing that Harry is protecting us from all those nasty people in the world.

On the surface these two shows are very different but they have attracted similar audiences – and hence people who are angry about the scheduling – because they share the qualities of good writing, good production values, good acting and good story telling.

We may have more television channels than we’ve ever had but that doesn’t necessarily mean we have more quality – both of these shows are exactly that and that’s why we care about them both.

So far in the great battle I’ve gone for watching Downton ‘live’ and Spooks the night after but as the latter was utterly brilliant this week, I may be tested again when Sunday night arrives.

Of colurse nowadays TV is not something many of us watch all the time as we may have done in the past but what this shows is we still do make an effort to watch or record things that interest us. We have all become television schedulers now – and you could argue we’re better at doing it than those whose actual job it is.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Fighting against The Vinyl Countdown

There is nothing more annoying than middle-aged people (OK, men) grumpily saying that things were better in the past and citing boring examples to back up the point. And, so, if you truly believe that, then I’m afraid you may need to start reading another column quickly.

For, although I still don’t believe I’m middle-aged (47? I’m only just getting started!) I fell back into that Grumpy Old Men nostalgic trap again at the weekend when, while clearing out an attic, I laid my hands again on the glories of my vinyl record collection.

Yes, despite the fact that I haven’t had a record player for at least 15 years, I have kept the absolute cream of my vinyl record collection which is covered in dust but also, crucially, smothered in happy memories.

Encouragingly, while once you were considered a dinosaur for even talking about vinyl, the format has had something of a comeback. Thanks to DJs on the dance scene particularly, young people no longer look totally bewildered when you talk about ‘records’ in that way they do when you wax lyrical about Tiswas or Aztec bars.

Indeed, you may be heartened to hear that vinyl is regarded as being on the rise. Last year in America an improved tally of nearly three million shiny bits of plastic were sold. This may sound impressive until you realise that this is in comparison to 325 million album sales via a CD or digital format.

Still a way to go then!

As someone with a large CD collection and a healthy enthusiasm for digital music, I’m not going to pretend I don’t see the huge advantage of both formats but I truly believe that vinyl was just so much more, well, fun.

Vinyl looked, smelt and felt different. There was nothing better than carrying home a 12 inch record, placing it on the turntable and then reading the sleeve notes and lyrics that were in more than the three point font size on today’s functional but unlovable CDs.

Last week I revelled again in those delicious big gatefold double albums like The Clash's London Calling and marvelled again about the wide variety of coloured vinyl, picture discs and even odd shaped records that I never got round to throwing out. My precious unthrowawayable Stranglers vinyl collection alone is littered with such items (a burger shaped disc for instance!) and all theoe multi-coloured joys seem ironic considering this is a band famous for just one  colour - black, the true home of vinyl.

But it wasn't just the look of records that made them superior to today's formats. What vinyl also gave you was a greater understanding of the rhythm of an album and the mechanics of putting it together.  One of the sad things about CDs is that they take away any concept of a ‘side A’ or ‘side B’. Among the joys of vinyl was hearing how an artist mixed and matched the songs so each ‘side’ felt complete and had the right opening and closing tracks.

You may be surprised to learn that the best-selling vinyl album in America last year was Abbey Road by The Beatles. In a way that does make perfect sense because that is a classic example of how well put together a record can be. Side two had a seamless quality that made it so different to side one. On CD you just don’t ‘get’ that as much.

But, perhaps most importantly to me, I really think vinyl (far more than CD and far, far more than digital) acts as a wonderful calendar of your life.

As I picked up a particular album last week I could almost instantly remember where I was when I bought it, how old I was and what was going on in my life. In future if all we ever do is download from the computer the ‘where’ in that equation is instantly forgotten.

A grumpy old man? Maybe. But vinyl was better wasn’t it?

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Empty Nest Syndrome begins..

To have one child leave home in a week might seem unfortunate. To have two looks pretty careless.

But that’s the situation I have faced this week as my two (and only) children both headed off to university – a situation faced by hundreds of local parents over the next couple of weeks who will be waving their hankies as their beloved youngsters head off to a brave new world.

On Thursday, I hurtled up the M5 to take ‘Child A’ off to Liverpool. A long day was then followed by an even longer one on Friday when I had a day full of meetings at work and then on Saturday it was back on to that pesky M5 again to take ‘Child B’ to Derby.

Although I’m immensely proud of them both and pleased they got positions in a very competitive year for university places, I was also very well aware that the moment I started to begin the whole 750 miles of back and forth travelling I would begin to suffer the first pangs of the phenomenon known as “empty nest syndrome”. This is traditionally only usually associated with mothers but a report recently showed that many fathers can also get hit by this dramatic change to their lifestyle. And I am under no illusions that if only ten per cent of dads suffer from it, I will be that one in ten.

The reality is as we all know from being parents – or even from being children of course – your relationship with your offspring changes all the time. Now, at this age, I’ve got into a wonderfully comfortable relationship with both my children where they are friends as much as family members and the thought of losing two of my best friends as well as my two closest family members over a 48-hour period seems pretty depressing.

Of course people tell me it’s not as bad as in the old days as we can communicate so much better now by texts, mobile phones and lovely inventions like Skype. But the truth is – and I have to admit to being exactly this type of person when I was a student – when you’re away and your life starts to become so much more involved with new-found friends and new-found towns, talking to the folks back home does not necessarily become priority numero uno.

The temptation to constantly text and email may initially be quite strong on my part but I suspect it is a temptation I will have to resist because the one thing above all that university is supposed to give is independence – and if you don’t give your children independence when they go to university, when can you?

But, of course, that won’t stop me worrying. Will they eat enough? Will they make friends? Will they like their accommodation? Will they like their new city? Will they like their university? Will they be able to survive on their limited budget? And, how come I’ll probably be spending more money on them when they’re in another county than now when they’re just in another room?

The truth is I guess we never stop worrying about kids whether they’re five, 15, 25 or, dare I say it, 55 or 75. It is what we are programmed to do but I can’t help thinking that to have two of them leave at the same time is probably too much for one doting dad to cope with.

Ah well it is only three years.

Pass the hankie.

It's the end of the holidays....

Bath, and I am sure Britain as a whole, felt a bit like the passenger pick-up point outside Bristol Airport this week.

I was there on Tuesday night picking up my daughter and three of her friends who had just come back from ‘Costa Del Nightclub’ after a week-long break which I prayed was nothing like The Inbetweeners Movie.

All four of them were in very good spirits on the night – but many other people I saw clearly weren’t. For while I was waiting for the dancing queens to return, I looked at the faces of other people who had arrived back in the UK, saw them staring out bleakly at the driving rain and high winds and felt their pain. They looked brown – but browned-off.

That sense of disappointment is, I suspect, how a lot of other people felt this week as we all collectively realised that the holiday summer season was now well and truly over. And if we did need reminding, what better, crueller symbol could there have been than the clouds opening and pouring down on those poor youngsters trundling back to school for the new term earlier in the week.

Wimbledon? A lifetime ago.

The best thing about having a holiday is not only the event itself but the anticipation of it so, conversely, the worst is actually coming back and waiting at that pick-up point knowing that the party is over for a while at least.In the office this week, for example, it was the first time for more weeks that I can remember that most of the team were back at their desks. But it was also noticeable that as and when people returned from their breaks, one of the first things many started to do was to think about the next one.

Holiday forms were filled in, calendars stared at and people started counting how many days they had left from their allocation. And that is amongst a bunch of people who by and large love their work – I can’t help wondering how much tougher PHB (my newly-invented Post Holiday Blues) is for those for whom every work day is a virtual trial.

Of course people will always say that they don’t get enough time off but the reality is Britain is actually not bad in terms of its annual holiday allowance. Most people in the UK are allowed a total of around 33 days off including Bank Holidays which is, on the downside, somewhat less than countries such as Brazil, France and Russia which all pip the 40 mark. However, spare a thought for countries such as China and Singapore, which only get in the 20s and even more so, perhaps surprisingly, for the USA where 15 days is the average holiday with a few Bank Holidays thrown in. And worse still, pity our poor old Canadian friends who get only ten statutory days off plus nine public holidays. Imagine those bleak Canadian faces at the pick-up point in airports in Toronto and Vancouver . . .

Ah well holidays over – what’s next? Why, we have Christmas to look forward to now of course. Pass the travel brochures. Quick.