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...