Wednesday, 18 May 2011

A sensible reason to do a crazy thing - climbing Kilimanjaro

Every so often a charity comes along that really captures the imagination and far exceeds its original ambitions.

Live Aid was a classic example of a cause that raised millions of pounds – as well as a great deal of awareness – and now the Help For Heroes charity has done exactly the same.

I was reminded of the remarkable impact of this charity on Tuesday morning when The Bath Chronicle business breakfast featured Chris Kane, a solicitor from Withy King, who explained how he and 40 other people (the majority of whom are from Bath) will soon be heading to Africa to climb Kilimanjaro.

Chris had been recruited to the trek by Bath Rugby favourite David Barnes and it was clear that the motivation to support Help For Heroes was one that has really spurred him on.

The reason Help For Heroes has been such a phenomenal success – and phenomenal is not too big a word as it has raised nearly £100m in just under four years – is that the charity has no interest in the rights or wrongs of wars and conflicts but cares passionately about the young men and women who are sent away, in our name, to take part in battles and often come back seriously injured.

The Government does do a lot to help, of course, but to give these people the first class treatment they truly deserve requires vast sums of extra money – and the public has seen that and responded.

Chris spoke very eloquently about the charity and its work but, as so often happens, it was the power of the images he showed in a special film which really told the story. We saw young men – some of whom looked barely old enough to vote – bravely coming to terms with losing limbs or being scarred for life.

These physical images were easy to convey but what the film also highlighted was the huge psychological damage conflicts can produce. This was a fact most vividly brought home when Chris revealed that more servicemen and women who fought in the Falklands have committed suicide since that conflict than died in the war itself.

Help for Heroes was set up by South West couple Bryn and Emma Parry to help every one of our returning serviceman, and so each time someone puts a pound in a box it can help make those folk realise their sacrifice was not in vain.

So I wish Chris, David and all the rest of their team every success on their epic journey which begins a fortnight today in the heat of Tanzania.

For all of them it will be a life-changing experience and I hope they take comfort from the fact that it could also be a life-changing – and possibly life-saving – experience for many of the servicemen and women their superb efforts will support.

Find our more about the climb at, follow its progress on Twitter (@axawealthclimb), or sponsor Chris at kilimanjaroJune2011.

Friday, 13 May 2011

In praise of Bath's civilised politicians

Politics, as we all know, is just like sport.

It is incredibly tribal and relies on warring teams battling it out, putting the boot in and arguing over every decision before one team emerges victorious and the others complain, sulk and blame everyone else but themselves.

So there really is no difference between sport and politics is there?

Well, nationally perhaps that is the case. But, I think, not so in Bath.

For, during the election, I think I saw evidence that Bath really is an example of how you can have a very civilised, mature political debate.

I joined the Chronicle team at the count for the B&NES election for an entertaining evening that didn’t end until around 5am and I was very impressed by what I saw and heard especially as I have been to some pretty lively counts over the years and seen some extraordinary sights. My favourite was when I was in the Midlands seeing a newly-elected lady screaming at her husband “you promised me I would lose!” after she had been unexpectedly elected for a deeply-unwanted four-year term because of a shift in national public opinion. It was a moment that amused many of us – particularly those who knew she wouldn’t be our councillor.

Last Thursday night, however, in the surprisingly calm confines of the Guildhall, there was no such hysterics – just a very dignified finale to what has been, for the most part, a very dignified election campaign.The reason I think we saw this was because all the parties emerged with something.

The national pundits had said that the Tory/Lib Dem parties would lose thousands of seats as voters took their revenge on the Coalition. In B&NES, however, the script hadn’t been read and you could argue (as I’m about to try to do) that nobody really lost.

Despite having apparently unpopular policies to do with transport and Culverhay, the Conservatives suffered only a minor reverse and many of their candidates increased their own personal votes. Labour did well also to have a candidate in every seat in Bath – which is not fertile ground for them – and they had respectable results in most wards. And the Greens also shone – taking third place in some areas and proving they are a genuine force to be reckoned with locally.So if the Tories, Labour and the Greens had reasons to be cheerful, then even more so did the independent voice (well done to June Player on her spectacular victory) and especially the Bath Lib Dems.

On a night where, particularly in the north, the Lib Dems seemed about as popular as Al Qaeda, in Bath they produced a result that had the phrase “bucking the trend” stamped all over it. Their performance as a party – and that of several individual councillors who greatly increased their vote – was remarkable in the national context and must have given the beleaguered Nick Clegg some comfort on a night when he had precious little else to cheer.

Of course, not everybody really won – someone has to run the council after all – but I think Bath itself did because this was a real war but with very little blood spilt.

Civilised. That’s what it was.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Why I'm glad cassettes are still in the mix

In these days of major technological advancements – where it seems yesterday’s new invention can be obsolete by tomorrow – it was very refreshing to hear that the recordings of Friday’s Royal Wedding service will be available in a number of formats. Including, to my delight, the humble cassette.

Aah, the cassette. What lovely memories many of us, of a certain age, have of that small plastic box in its C30, C60 or C90 formats which opened up a world of possibilities for those who loved their music.

The truth is the cassette was never able to compete with its much stronger rival for purchased music – the lovely big vinyl record – but it really came into its own as a way of allowing people to create their own music and their own “albums”.

Of course, now we live in a digital arena where people can create all kinds of playlists on and off line and where the i-Pod can provide unlimited opportunities for opening up your musical collection, but just a few short years ago the cassette was the only game in town. And oh how we loved it as a result.

My earliest memory of the joy of taping was when my older sister received one of those small cassette recorders as a present. Initially the excitement was being able to use the portable microphone to hear your own voice played back (as an aside, has anybody ever thought their recorded voice sounds like the one that comes out of your mouth?). But once that novelty had passed, you saw that the real strength of the cassette recorder was to be able to tape music.

I’m sure there are whole generations of people, like me, who sat and listened to the radio – particularly the run down of the Top 20 on a Sunday evening – with their finger poised over the pause button ready to just record the songs that you particularly liked. It was never an exact science – the cunning radio DJs at the time knew exactly what we were doing and would talk over the intros to stop us pinching their precious wares – but it was a real thrill to record music from the radio and capture the tunes for free.

This then developed into creating (and I suspect I’m talking more to the male reader of a certain age) what we all lovingly called “the mix tape”. This is when you plundered your album collection and picked out tracks that fitted a certain mood and put them on to a tape that could be called upon for a particular circumstance.

You could have your “I’m angry with the world and need something loud” tape, your “I’m feeling reflective and need some nice songs” collection and, of course, (and this is what the cassette was really invented for) your “love tape”. This would be for songs when you were falling in (or out) of love during that bizarre teenage period and of course it could be the tape you even gave to your partner to show the depth of your feelings.

So, I’m delighted that the cassette lives on still – and I hope this Royal Wedding “love tape” will be one that will be cherished almost as much as the ones we did ourselves.