Friday, 1 June 2012

My fond farewell to the Bath Chronicle and the city

After six and a half very happy years (and more than 330 in-paper columns!), I will be leaving my position as editor of the Bath Chronicle on Friday, June 1 and so this is my farewell to you all.

As I said when the announcement was originally made, I have just reached a stage in my life where I feel I need to do something different and the fact that I have absolutely no idea whatsoever what that ‘something’ is, is obviously just a mere footnote. All I do know is that if I can find any other role that can give me the same level of satisfaction and pride that I’ve been able to have in this position then I will be a very lucky man indeed.

I first came to Bath in September 2005 and I have to admit I knew nothing about the city before I came. In many ways I saw this as a great advantage because it meant I didn’t carry any baggage or have any set opinions about the important issues that affect our community. This allowed me to go on my own journey of discovery to try and help shape the direction of this wonderful and important local newspaper.

Welcoming in the Chronicle's 250th anniversary with my friends and highly-talented colleagues Graham Holburn and Paul Wiltshire 
Of course, some of you may never have forgiven me for being part of the team that turned the Chronicle from a daily paper to a weekly one but the truth is that was a move that has secured the paper’s long-term future and has made it a far more successful and respected title as a result. We have won a number of awards since becoming weekly but far more importantly, we’ve won more readers and when combined with our success online and our increasingly strong presence on the social media, we are now being read by more people than ever before. And I’m extremely proud of that fact.

But, the real reason why I will be able to look back on my time here with sheer pleasure is because I have been privileged to work with some amazing colleagues and to be part of a remarkable community based on decency, goodness and unshakeable community spirit.

This is a city which has, as its backdrop, some of the most glorious architecture in Europe but it is not the bricks and mortar that define the strength of a community it is the quality of the people and in this regard Bath truly is second to none.

One of my happiest days - welcoming Nicolas Cage to the Roman Baths after he turned on the Christmas lights. Pictured with my lovely MD Sarah Pullem. 
Week in week out, I have been amazed at the generosity of people to charities big and small. From our prized local philanthropists to those with little to spare but who are still determined to help others, I have been truly touched and inspired by the kindness of local folk.

Maybe Bathonians don’t think this about their community enough but let me tell you all that Bath truly is special and that’s because of the people who make it so. And I feel truly honoured to have been able to have played a small part over the years in helping to make sure that this city is served with the best possible newspaper to celebrate the city's bewildering amount of achievements.

Whatever the future holds for me, I’ll still be around Bath at times I hope because as, we all know, this is a city that once it gets you, you stay ‘got’. It’s a special city with special people – thank you all for allowing me to be part of it.

(Please feel free to follow me on Twitter at @samholliday).

PS My in-paper column may have ended but my blog will continue. Please visit again!!! 

My Bath.....

I was asked (in fact I may have even have done the asking!) to do the 'My Bath' section of the Bath Chronicle in my final edition (May 31).And here is a slightly extended version of what I did ....

Editor Sam Holliday – who leaves his role on Friday after six and a half years – answers the questions in our My Bath feature, in conjunction with Bath Tourism Plus

What’s your favourite part of Bath?

I guess it is something of a cop-out but I love the whole city and I find its sheer diversity to be its most enjoyable feature. Of course I love the traditional attractions – and how good does the Roman Baths look at the moment for example? – but Bath has just got so much more to offer and even after six years or so, I’m still discovering new streets, new sights and new sensations.

Where is the best place to eat?

When I first arrived here someone told me you could eat somewhere different in the Bath area every day of the year. Sadly I’ve not been able to test that theory but I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad meal in all the time I’ve been here. I have a particular fondness for The Firehouse and for a quick and tasty Thai meal, you can’t beat the Yum Yum Thai. But frankly if you can't find something to suit your taste you simply aren't trying.... 

What’s the best view in the city?

A tricky one this but I would have to go with the incredible view from Alexandra Park. Up there you get to see the whole city in all its complexity and variety and I particularly enjoyed popping up there during the rebuilding work on SouthGate to get a great overview of the development and how it affected the surrounding area.

What would your perfect day in Bath entail?

A lie -in (yey!), a nice potter around the city centre, a relaxed meal, a trip to somewhere sporty (Twerton Park or The Rec) and then a night at the theatre or even better, at the Little Theatre which I believe to be the best cinema in the world. Food, drink, sport and a film – what more could you ask for?

Where would you meet friends for a drink?

I don’t have a particular favourite because half the fun of Bath is finding new places to relax and take in the city and its people. As I am usually driving so much I rarely get the chance to have a ‘proper’ drink, but if I do then a pint of Gem, by our very own Bath Ales, takes some beating.

What’s your favourite shop?

I think one of the reasons Bath is so successful as a retail destination is because it combines the big shops we all know and love with lots of small quirky independent shops where you think you are buying things that can be sold nowhere else on earth. And as a big book reader, I’m just so thrilled that this city has so many cracking book shops – long may that continue.

What one thing about Bath would you change?

I know it’s a cliché (but hey I’m a journalist!) but the traffic, particularly at rush hour can be a drag. However, as this is such a beautiful city if you’re going to get stuck in a car staring at buildings, you might as well get stuck in Bath…

You just can't please some people . . .

As you will see from the masses of photographs in the Chronicle of May 24 this has been an extraordinary week where a single event, the Olympic Torch Relay, brought the city together in a wonderful, moving show of unity.

It was the sort of event that very rarely happens as the whole community was drawn together having been all attracted by the feeling that this was something significant, something important and something that can only be seen in a positive light.

Well, when I say ‘all’....

For remarkably, even though I genuinely thought this was something everyone would get excited above, clearly not everybody has done.

As one prime close-to-home example my own son was literally minutes away from where the torch would pass but I just couldn’t enthuse him to go and watch it. And I have since heard of other people who wouldn’t have looked out the window if the torch passed through their front garden.

So it did get me wondering if there is actually anything that would unite everyone in positivity. And do you know what, I don’t think there actually is.

For example, the appearance of the torch was also at the same time as the much-delayed arrival of the sun.

After weeks of rain that at times seemed so intense that I’m sure many of us were considering building an ark and searching for paired-up animals, the sun gloriously re-appeared as if to make sure the torch relay through our patch had the best possible backdrop.

So surely the sun is a lovely, universally appreciated thing? Alas, not.

I went onto Facebook briefly on Tuesday night and found a comment from one of my friends that said “so the sun’s already been out two days – and I’m sick of it”.

Had this been an ironic comment, I would have just seen it for what it was, but I know he actually meant it – and I know he’s not alone either.

So, therefore, if neither the beaming sun nor the colourful Olympic Torch Relay can unite, it does make you ponder if there’s anything that is guaranteed to make us all look in the same positive direction.

The answer I think is ‘no’ because human nature is just not like that.

I’m fairly certain that if it was declared tomorrow that every day, as Wizzard wished it to be, was Christmas Day, that a whole swathe of people would be angry at missing out on their cherished Boxing Day. And, furthermore, I’m sure there would be somebody, somewhere who if offered a substantial Lottery win, would instead of grabbing the cheque, just shake their head miserably and say things like “I suppose that means I’m going to be inundated with begging letters . .. ”

I think it all comes down to the fact that while most of us would regard being optimistic about life as an absolute pre-requisite, not everybody feels the same. I am, as I hope by now you will have gathered, a wildly optimistic person and frankly I think I have more fun for so being.

Bah humbug? No, bar the pessimists I say!

Reminding ourselves why we love sport....

(Originally published in the Bath Chronicle on May 17).

When the Olympic torch weaves its way through the streets of Bath on Tuesday, everyone who has the privilege to witness it will suddenly get a genuine sense of excitement and insight about what this sporting summer will bring with it.

As I’ve said before in this column, the Olympics is – and always has been – more than about sport. It is about the coming together of nations with a single purpose where the only guns on view are those in the rifle range or in the hands of the starter in the athletics. And it is where honest sporting achievement defines a nation not its military or financial might.

But, at the end of the day, once the closing ceremony comes to an end, it is the great sporting highlights that we will remember. And all the indications are that this year we will have so many treasured memories to reflect on . . .

If those of us who have been giddily awaiting this global bonanza weren’t already in a frenzied state, then quite possibly THE most incredible example of sporting craziness on Sunday afternoon will have reminded us all of the sheer drama that sport can provide.

As regular readers will know, I am a serious football fan but I’m not one who is blind to its faults. The ridiculous amounts of money in the game, the fact that at the top level it is so expensive it prices many of its true supporters out of the market and the often idiotic on and off the field activities of some of its ‘stars’ is enough to put anybody off. As such at times I’ve been almost cold to a sport that has warmed my heart practically all my life.

But then, on Sunday, I was reminded again of why I truly love football – and sport in general.

Those incredible last few minutes which saw the Premiership title slip in a matter of seconds from the familiar hands of Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson to his ‘noisy’ Italian neighbour at Manchester City, will remain long in the minds of everyone who was able to see or hear it. I’ve no particular affinity (or indeed dislike) for either City or United but even I was screaming like a teenager at a Beatles concert at the crazy finale to this crazy season and I can only wonder at just how busy the cardiac unit was in Manchester that evening. For, if we neutrals barely coped, how on earth did the faithful of either side?

But that is football – and indeed that is sport. It can provide disappointments, frustrations and anger at times but it can also produce magic moments that everyone shares and talks about long afterwards. And, in some ways, the Olympics takes it on to a different level altogether because in my experience the Olympics is an event which even those who wouldn’t watch a minute of sport in a typical year, will be riveted to.

They, like us, will happily watch people they’ve never heard of playing sports they’ve never before seen and will feel happily patriotic in the best and most pure way.

So, please try and get along on Tuesday to see the torch go by and remember this is just the taster for the incredible, all-embracing main event in the summer.

Cardiac units please note . . .

Monday, 14 May 2012

Boris - he only needs one name...

It is often said that the height of fame is when you’re known by just one name. You can say the name and immediately everybody will know who you’re referring to, even if it’s not actually unique to that person.

Think Rhianna. Think Beyonce. Think Adele. Or think of Pele (and think what would have happened if he didn’t use that name as his real name is actually Edson Arantes do Nascimento – and imagine that written on the back of his shirt.

The Material Girl - she only needs one name  
Of course you may argue that it’s easy to adopt such a monicker if you’re in sport or entertainment but surely nobody in public or civic life would be so well known that just one name (particularly if it’s a Christian name) is enough to identify them.

But you’d be wrong. For last week while most of the country went to the polls to vote for relatively anonymous figures Londoners were able to choose their favourite from the exciting ‘Boris v Ken’ show.

For yes, the battle to become London Mayor pitted the blonde haired bumbling Boris Johnson against the hardbitten genial Ken Livingstone in a battle that seemed to have far more glamour and personality than any of the equally important political battles in, say, Rotherham or Romford.

What's in a name?
The fact that Boris won the vote – which went against the tide of Conservative failures elsewhere – is because he has managed to cross the divide of party politics and actually engage people who just have an opinion of him rather than what he believes in. I mentioned his name casually to a die-hard Labour supporter relative on Monday for instance and he burst into laughter and said how much he liked Boris. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard him say he liked anybody from the Conservative Party and that’s because Boris has done that rare thing that all politicians dream of – he has become a bigger figure than the party he represents.

Of course politics is a serious business and the defeated Ken said, ruefully, that the vote wasn’t about who would be the best presenter for Have I Got News For You (which even he agreed Boris would be) but for a serious political office. But what Ken and others must realise is that in a political landscape where only 30 per cent of people even bothered to get out to vote in those aforementioned elections, the desperate lack of personality amongst most politicians is something which is a turn off to people who live in the sort of entertainment and celebrity-led world inhabited by some of the other one-name-only folk such as Cher, Bono and Sting.

Of course not everybody who can get away with just one name uses their Christian one. They may be as far apart musically as it’s possible to be but both Liberace and Morrissey both presumably have Christian names but you’d have to be in a musical section of a quiz to be able to find out what they may be.

So, clearly the way to get yourself noticed and to get your ‘name’ out there is to make that name as short as possible. So this is Sam signing off. Or should that be Holliday. Or should that even be James (which is my real name but that’s a totally different story. . .)

Liberace - and his first name is???

It's the media killing the media . . ..

This apperared in the Bath Chronicle on May 3 in the middle of the Leveson inquiry. It provoked at least one hostile letter... 

Ladies and gentlemen here is the news. And it is all about the news.


For, yes, once more all week we have all been bombarded with stories, interviews and debate about the press, Rupert Murdoch, phone hacking and the role that newspapers play in this country.

And, despite the fact that this is my industry and one I have been proud to serve for nearly 30 years, I am sick to death of all this coverage and can’t help wondering just what the millions of people who aren’t remotely connected to the media industry make of it all.

For this is the media eating itself.

And it is not a pretty sight.

Now don’t get me wrong. What the News Of The World did in terms of phone hacking was a terrible thing but it was something that bore no relation to the honest, integrity-led journalism produced by the vast majority of our newspapers nationally and (even more so) locally.

That paper simply went far too far and adopted a ‘get-the-story-at-all- costs’ policy that was probably inevitably going to lead to a dramatic fall at one point. But I doubt if any of us could imagine just how big that fall would be for the paper that paid the ultimate price. And let us not forget the closure of the News Of The World was a self-imposed act at the end of a sensational turn of events.

As a result of all that it was only proper that a serious debate about ethics and journalism should follow and I for one felt that was the right thing to do.

However, the relentless day-to-day coverage of that debate ever since smacks of serious overkill.

So many important things have happened in the world in recent days but many issues are being drowned by some media outlets poring over every word and every nuance of everyone involved in the current media inquiries to try and bring newspaper people (and the odd Government minister) down.

Sometimes it just looks like media luvvies relishing the chance to comment about the thing they ‘luv’ the most – themselves, the media.

All of this newspaper-bashing is in serious danger of making us all feel (wrongly) that the free, written press we should all cherish is rotten from top to bottom.




Newspapers – especially local ones – are still a force for good in my opinion. We fight for our communities, reflect the cheers (as well as the tears) of our communities and provide a forum for debate and comment, all in (for local papers at least) a totally non-partisan independent context.

But I fear we are all in danger of forgetting that due to the wider media’s OTT, self-indulgent obsession with all things Murdoch.

Some politicians would love nothing better than to strangle press freedom as a belated revenge for the MPs expenses scandal being (brilliantly) exposed by The Daily Telegraph. The media itself is playing into their hands. And boring us all silly at the same time.

Monday, 30 April 2012

Why leaving a job can be like being at your own funeral...

As you may have heard by now, I have announced that I will be leaving the really rather wonderful job of editor on Friday, June 1.

It was a very tough decision to make as I’m one of those very fortunate people who loves his job (and always has done) but I have just come to the point where I feel it is time to seek a new challenge. And if I don’t do it now, well perhaps I may never do so.

The fact that I don’t have a clue as to what that challenge may be has certainly surprised some people but I am of the opinion that maybe you can’t even think about opening a new door until you’ve firmly closed the old one.

I made the announcement on Thursday, April 19,  and since then I have been genuinely touched at the way people – both in my office and outside – have reacted to my news.

I’ve received a number of emails, cards, telephone calls and messages on social media sites all wishing me well and it has been very humbling to see, read and hear some of these generous remarks. They all reminded me again (not that I needed much reminding) about how special and thoughtful the people of Bath and surrounding towns and villages truly are. And how very lucky my eventual successor will be.

What these messages also made me think, however, is it is a real shame in some ways that we only ever tend to tell people what we think of them at times of leaving.

At the most extreme example of this, I have often sat in funerals and heard the deceased lauded for his or her achievements. At times I’ve wondered if the unfortunate recipient of these eulogies had actually known just how highly they were regarded while they were still in a position to appreciate such words. Indeed a little rock group (who you may heard me mentioned in this blog once, twice or 74 times) called The Stranglers once penned a ditty called Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead which summed up the way we only rush to praise people after their demise. Maybe it is because we find it easier to express our love and admiration for someone when there is no chance of a reaction from them?

Leaving a job, as I’m about to do, is probably the nearest we get to hearing what people might say if we make that, ahem, ultimate journey and I think that’s all rather sad.

So, as a leaving gift to me (although as satted I’m still around for a few weeks yet!), I am hereby urging you all today to make a ‘living tribute’ to someone in your home, school, office, factory, shop, college, playgroup, church, sports club etc etc etc. I know it is not terribly English to do so but why not just surprise someone you care about and say something nice to them – for no other reason than you can.

If you do so you might just give them the sort of lift I have had this week as friends, colleagues and contacts past and present have made my inbox a happy place to visit.

Don’t wait until someone has a P45 in their pocket (or, even worse a one-way ticket ‘north’) to salute them just do it today because people need to feel good and nothing makes them feel better than knowing that someone, somewhere, appreciates them.

It’s nice to be nice.

Car boot sales - a 'fad' that keeps on going

Just as for many people spring is heralded by the first cuckoo, for me it is welcomed in by my first trip to a car boot sale of the year.

Like many of you, I guess, I discovered the joys of car boot sales a number of years ago but suspected then they may just turn out to be a “fad”. Well, if the evidence of my visit last weekend is anything to go by, this is one heck of a long-lasting “fad” because the number of sellers and buyers seems as large as ever.

The reason for the ongoing success of these fun events I think is that they tune into two particular British pleasures. For, although the idea was imported into this country in the 1970s, it all feels quintessentially British because we like being sellers (we are a “nation of shopkeepers” remember) and we enjoy buying too because if there is one thing we Brits all love it is a genuine bargain.

The desire to unearth among other people’s junk something which we hope will turn out to be hidden treasure, is what makes car boot sales such a joy and what has also, of course, created a whole genre of TV shows such as the seemingly ubiquitous Cash In The Attic and of course that long-term Sunday favourite, Antiques Roadshow.

Personally, I prefer another programme which also has the same qualities of Brits looking to do a “Del Boy” and turn one person’s rubbish into another person’s gold, and that is Channel 4’s Wednesday night treat called Four Rooms.

For those who haven’t seen it, this delicious show brings together four very successful antique dealers who get the chance to bid for all sorts of strange items that people keep lurking around in their houses.

Thus in recent weeks we have seen a woman who had salvaged the original letters from the Abbey Road sign which was featured on the Beatles album of the same name, a man who tried (and thankfully dismally failed) to sell a Ku Klux Klan children’s outfit from the 1920s (yes, I know I was appalled too) and even someone who had the very good fortune of having an original piece by Damien Hirst stuck on his chip shop wall. All of these sellers – and many others like them – went into that room thinking in pound signs and it is that lovely sense of hope that we may hit the junk jackpot that is one of the reasons many of us love a car boot sale.

Sadly, on my trip last week, I didn’t discover anything from The Beatles, Damien Hirst or (thank the Lord) the Ku Klux Klan but I still came away with a smile having spent a whopping £1 on a Woody Allen DVD which made me feel that I had got my own little bargain which is, after all, what I was there for.

And, of course, if I can buy then I can sell and despite the fact that I had somewhat hit or miss success in the past, I will certainly have another go.

My failure in the past has been down to the fact that when it comes down to it, although what we are selling is often unwanted junk, it is our unwanted junk and so I can remember turning down perfectly reasonable offers for goods because I thought they were worth more and felt insulted. It was only when I was loading the goods back into my boot later that I realised this probably wasn’t the wisest strategy to adopt.

So I will hone my selling technique again and I look forward to opening Holliday’s Boot Of Delights to you all soon.

Why the Titanic story still fascinates

Here are a few sobering statistics for you to ponder.

It is estimated that 93,000 people died as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear leak and 139,000 from the floods in Bangladesh in the early 1990s. A massive 200,000 are thought to have perished in the tsunami of 2004 and maybe even more died in the earthquake in Haiti a few years later. All truly horrible statistics.

And sadly, these are not the only natural disasters that have seen the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, but strangely perhaps none of these have spawned the amount of books, films and TV dramas in this country as a disaster that took ‘just’ 1,517 lives 100 years ago.

There is something about what happened to the Titanic – whose maiden voyage ended in tragedy on April 15, 1912 – that has sparked the imagination of so many of us ever since. Thus, millions of people are watching the latest TV drama written by Julian Fellowes on Sunday nights and a huge amount of folk will have been piling into the cinema all week to watch the re-released version of the Titanic film which went on to be the most commercially successful ever made.

I was one of those that did so on Monday having been intrigued as to what this epic movie would look like in its new 3D format. I’m not a great fan of 3D to be honest, and the truth is I’m not sure the extra dimension added much to the experience, but I do know that despite all the films soapy, over-romanticised scenes, the remarkable and breathtaking depiction of the sinking itself makes it a movie that deserves attention.

So what is it about the Titanic that instils this ongoing fascination? And what is it, indeed, that inspired people last week to pay thousands of pounds to go on a journey retracing the Titanic’s course which will culminate on its 100th anniversary in a memorial service at the exact spot where the so-called unsinkable ship sunk?

I think the reason this terrible disaster keeps its grip on us is that despite the fact that this was one of the most opulent and beautifully-fitted vessels the world has ever seen, the Titanic was designed to cater for all and thus was like a floating United Nations with people from all walks of life brought together in a communal celebration of being part of history.

In many ways all of our hopes and dreams were on that ship – it was akin to the moon landings in uniting everyone in admiration of what man could achieve.

How people must have swelled with pride as they saw the unsinkable, glorious ship set off to take people to a new world, a new life and in more comfort than ever before. What a spectacle, what a vision, what a story – and hence what a truly crushing finale which took away people’s hopes and dreams as well as so many lives.

The Titanic tale showed – as so many of those disasters mentioned previously have done – that the best that man can build still counts for nothing against nature and that realisation must have been as painful in 1912 as it is now.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Bath City's relegation and sport - it's the hope that kills you

One of the many wonderful things about sport is the collective sense of hope that occurs seconds before the first ball is kicked, thrown or batted away at the start of a season.

Thus, at a couple of minutes before 3pm on a Saturday afternoon in August, football supporters who follow teams from Clevedon United to Manchester United all secretly thought “this is going to be our season”. Within maybe a few minutes some may have doubted that thought, but for that glorious moment before it all kicks off, everybody can see only glory.

That is how Bath City’s loyal supporters may well have felt as their team lined up on August 13 at Mansfield Town where they went on to pick up a creditable draw to start the season in style. The team had gone into the campaign on the back of a superb top ten finish in their first foray into the Blue Square Premier League and with a new, enthusiastic chair(wo)man on board, hopes were high on and off the field for a season to remember.

Well, it has certainly been that – but sadly for all the wrong reasons.

For last Tuesday night, City became the first club in the top five divisions of the English game to be relegated. Cast adrift at the bottom of the table they didn’t even have the opportunity to influence their own fate as it was decided by a result elsewhere which left the club down and indeed out of a league they seemed so at ease in 12 months ago.

It is hard to take much comfort from the season that has passed and to those loyal Bath City fans – and we should never under-estimate how loyal so many of them are even when the club has performed so consistently poorly on the pitch – this will be a very tough period indeed. To be looking down the barrel of relegation before you’ve even had the chance to open an Easter egg just doesn’t seem right.

But, in this gloomiest of weeks for local football fans, I want to try and stay positive. The second season after promotion is always notoriously difficult – it is sport’s equivalent of the second album syndrome – and City week in, week out were competing against teams with bigger squads, bigger budgets and bigger crowds. The fact that they did so spectacularly well last year seems even more remarkable now and I hope the club and their fans will remember that. And, once they have licked their open wounds in the coming weeks, I hope they will start to think afresh about next year when they will be in a league where they will go from being the underdogs to being among the top dogs again and the winning habit will return.

I watched City myself last Friday night as I returned to my hometown Tamworth to watch the fixture between my two favourite non-league teams and it was great to see City perform so doggedly there and claim an unexpected victory.  I hope for the rest of the season they will exhibit a pride and even maybe a sense of freedom now their inevitable (?) fate has been sealed.

Bath City are a great club and an important part of the local community. I sincerely hope that they will regroup in the summer and come back stronger, fitter and more determined when the 2012/13 campaign begins. Oh, and there is one thing we can all do to help as well. If more of us watch this team more often then it will have more resources to be able to ensure that horrendous seasons such as the one they are currently living in are very much the exception not the norm.

Bath needs a strong football club – but it also needs us as a city to invest in that to make it happen.

Being a dad is important too

Like I suspect many millions of people in this country, if I was asked which of my roles in life I am most proud of it would be the fact that I’m a father.

Whether I’m a good dad or not isn’t for me to say but I guess, again like many others, all I can say is I think I’ve tried my best and I do, and always will, love my children to bits.

Being a father, however, sometimes doesn’t feel quite as defined a role as being a mum. The fact that a minority – and if you read some media you will forget that it’s only a minority – of dads abandon their children without emotional or financial support means we are often not treated with the same respect as mums and I do find that a little sad.

I remember when my children were little noticing just how society viewed the role of mum and dad differently. Perhaps it was the weekends spent in Mothercare (note the name) or perhaps it was the fact (and this one always annoyed me) that when I spent time alone with my children people would often say “are you babysitting” as if they couldn’t possibly assume it was something I would want to do by choice.

And then of course there’s the whole “mother and toddlers” thing. I remember once when I was off from work being encouraged to take my then two year old daughter to a local ‘mothers and toddlers’ group having been assured that there were lots of other men there. There wasn’t. The oldest other male in the room was about three years of age and some of the mothers looked at me with everything ranging from curiosity to outright suspicion.

I also recall how excited I was when I knew I was going to be a dad for the first time and the crushing disappointment of realising that nobody had written any books or produced magazines for would-be dads while the shelves were creaking at the titles for mums, potential or otherwise. I remember pointing this out to a female friend who said (I think jokingly) “well you’ve done the main job now – the rest is all about your bank balance”.

I’m sure things are different today – my two are scarily 18 and 20 years of age now – but I still support any idea to try to help dads understand the important role they have to play in bringing up children. And that is why I salute Bath and north east Somerset Council’s recent initiative called Celebrating Fatherhood which is a series of events to encourage dads to get the most out of their relationship with their children and maybe to help foster some of the relationships with other fathers that mums have always done with each other so brilliantly in similar circumstances.

On my drive to work recently I heard the reports about why some people believe the riots took place last summer and it was mentioned on several occasions that the lack of male role models may have had an impact on that scenario. I’m not 100 per cent sure about that, but I do know that the best male role model any child can have is a loving father and so let me use this column to say a hearty well done to dads everywhere who, like me, bumble along but if we’re led by our heart, hopefully get there in the end.

Yes mums are wonderful. But hey, we dads have our moments too.

*This article originally appeared in the Bath Chronicle on March 29.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Print is safe! How we 'beat' digital in the great D:BATE

Like many people in this city full of ideas and opinions, I just love a good debate.

Whether it’s about sport, politics, religion or any of the other facets of life that potentially divide us, I always enjoy witnessing and being part of the cut-and-thrust of lively and engaging verbal battles.

Therefore, I was delighted to see that a new debating forum has started in Bath – called, simply, D:BATE. The organisers of this forum want to create a way for Bathonians to take part in open and passionate discussions about some of the issues that affect us all both locally and nationally.

The winning team - Mike, myself and Robert. Pic: Matt Cardy
They kicked off in impressive style on Monday by tying in with Bath’s excellent digital festival to have a debate on the motion: “Digital is killing the print industry – the presses will stop running in ten years”.

Now, as most of you are reading this in print (although I know some will be reading it on my blog), you can imagine where I stand on the “will print survive” concept and so I was very pleased to be asked to join the team defending and promoting newspapers, books, magazines et al.

The nature of the debate meant that three of us (I was joined by the dynamic duo of Mike Goldsmith from Future and Robert Topping of the wonderful bookshop that carries his name) were each given seven minutes apiece to voice our arguments. These were interspersed by seven minute bursts of the opposite opinion from three equally committed speakers – local digital whizz kids Richard Godfrey and Chris Book and the flamboyant and entertaining author Julian Gough.

The idea was we would all give our opinions, take questions from the floor and then the audience would vote to see which team had won.

The excellent opposition. Above Julian and Richard. On the right is Chris Book.
Pics by Matt Cardy 

I’m delighted to say that we did (so keep your subscription to the Bath Chronicle going until at least 2021!) but I believe it’s not about the winning, it’s about the taking part.

In saying that however, I must confess that, on balance, winning is rather the better option.

The great thing about the night was that although the debate itself was seriously conducted, it was also great fun and I think all of us managed to mix the facts and stats we’d brought with us with a little bit of energy and wit to ensure that the very impressive sized audience in the glorious surroundings of the Pump Room enjoyed every minute.

In the wake of the demise of the Better Bath Forum (which did an equally important job last year), I think D:BATE will fill the gap nicely – and indeed offer something different to what we’ve seen before.
D:People behind Lightful D:BATE.
Some of the organsiers - Pic by Matt Cardy

The bright and breezy team led by Dom Moorhouse are not scared to tackle controversial issues – their next one on June 13 is about whether we need a monarchy right in the midst of the Jubilee celebrations – and there is an zeal and vitality among everyone involved which makes me think this could grow into something really special for the city.

You can find out more about the group at and I hope
that anyone who enjoys a good, healthy debate in a relaxed environment will keep an eye out for their future endeavours.

 Oh and finally, thanks to all of those who voted for our ‘side’. As I say it’s not about winning – but if you believe that then you will believe anything.

Like, for instance, that the presses will stop running in ten years time . . .

Friday, 16 March 2012

Taking a comic turn in pursuit of the write stuff

Let me share a little secret with you.

Many journalists on newspapers secretly fancy themselves as writers of fiction or non-fiction.

The fact that we are, in effect, paid to write makes many of us believe that this obviously proves there is an important book or TV series lurking within us that one day simply must be unleashed on the wider world.

I realised this fact once when I was interviewing an author who told me that he used to work on The Sun.

He said he had handed his notice in when the novel he had written in his spare time was snapped up by a publisher and he decided to devote all his time to writing more books.

When he told his colleagues about this they were all amazed that he had found time to even write a book alongside his “real” work with many also saying they couldn’t understand why he would want to waste his time “messing about” with books anyway.

But then, within the space of a few days, half-a-dozen people, including a couple who had loudly decried him, came up alongside and quietly offered their own manuscripts to pass on to his new-found publisher.

The Sun “Secret Writers Group” was clearly a thriving one.

Seriously funny comedies   
Well, I make no secret of the fact that I would one day love to see a book of mine on the shelves and the fact that a former PA of mine – the lovely Moira Young, author of award-winning Blood Red Road – has already done so merely whets my literary appetite even more.

But could I actually write a novel or do something for TV or radio?
Well, I’m not sure so on Saturday I took advantage (as I said I would in this blog many moons ago) of the fact that the City of Bath College was hosting a one-day course in how to write a TV sitcom to go and find out a bit more about the “write stuff”.

There were only a handful of us on the course but as one woman had travelled all the way up from Plymouth to be there it showed me how lucky we were to have such an unusual seminar on our doorstep.

Top tips - our tutor David Lassman
We were also very lucky to have an excellent tutor – David Lassman, a key player in the Bath Writers’ Group – who stoked all the writing fires within us as he talked about what made a good sitcom, how to develop ideas into making one and what we can learn from the successful shows that have already defined the genre.

All of us on the course came away, I think, feeling encouraged that this is something that we could possibly do and that is why I really admire the college for putting on these kind of courses as part of their excellent Love2Learn programme which give you a taste for something that could readily develop into a full-on craving.

Of course, I’m often reminded that just because everyone can write a book doesn’t mean they should and to the old adage “there’s a book in everyone” I always say the phrase “yes, but it’s probably a bad book”. However, I do think if I did get to the end of my mortal coil having not at least had a go at writing something that could be on the WH Smith book shelves rather than its paper stand then I will be disappointed. Wether it will be a comedy or not I'm not sure - after all how funny we are is like how good we are at driving or how talented we are in more 'intimate' circumstances we probably don't see it as others do! - but I know I will write someday and Saturday may well be the first step in the 'write' direction.  
So, thanks to Bath College and Mr Lassman I will now spend more time thinking about the writing game. And, yep, you read it here first.

Monday, 12 March 2012

'Oddball' Coriolanus reminds me of the joy of learning

A cracking movie
Another very impressive and eclectic Bath Literature Festival has just come to an end and it makes me ponder again on the sheer joy of reading – not only purely for pleasure but also for the educational benefits it brings.

Ever since I dusted off my shoes as I walked away from my college, I have said that I would like to do an Open University degree at some point. That is not for career reasons but it is due to my strong belief that we must never give up learning - or realising the benefits of lifelong education.

The link this has to the joy of reading is that last Monday evening I went to the Little Theatre, in Bath, to see a superb modern day film adaptation of Coriolanus.

For those that don’t know – and don’t worry the vast majority of people don’t – Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare’s lesser celebrated works about an arrogant soldier who despises being the politician his role requires and ends up turning on the people who attack his proud nature. It is not, by any means, one of Shakespeare’s easiest plays but the film works extremely well by changing its setting to the modern world, truncating its length and truly bringing the text to life.

Shakespeare 2012
The sole reason I was watching it is because I had done Coriolanus for my A-level. While other students at my school had been given much more famous texts such as Hamlet, Othello or King Lear to study, I felt somewhat cheated to have been left with this rather oddball work and after an initial read through I thought that I would never get to grips with it. But, crucially (and thankfully) I did.

And that is because I had to.

As I was forced to study the book, I read through it a number of times, got involved in plenty of class discussions about it and genuinely began to admire everything about it which is why I was very excited last week to see an adaptation of it on the big screen for the first time.
I took some persuading to like this

But the truth is that I would never have even bothered to read this work had I not had the loaded gun of the A-level exam pointing at me and that is why education is a joy – it stretches you beyond your comfort zone and makes you work at something that you may otherwise dismiss.

Indeed, I had a similar feeling about our very own Jane Austen whose book Persuasion I also initially treated with contempt but soon grew to love as my studies developed leaving me with a Miss Austen appreciation which has stayed until this day.

Your never too old to learn 
So, if you’re a student reading this faced with the equivalent of a Coriolanus that doesn’t initially appeal then please stick with it and revel in the fact that you’re being given a chance to challenge yourself.

As the cliche goes, education really does broaden the mind and it definitely broadened my appreciation of works that other people had realised were great while I was all too keen to sneer at them.

Oh and just in case you’re thinking viewing such high-brow films like Coriolnaus will means you will spoilt from enjoying everyday movies, then you’ll be pleased to know that a few days later I went to see The Muppets.

Yes, from Kermit to Coriolanus in just 48 hours. Now THAT’s an all-round education.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

The Stranglers - a band with a stranglehold on Bath

The great survivors...The Stranglers (left to right Dave Greenfield, Jet Black, Baz Warne and JJ Burnel) 

The news we revealed last week that Bath is to stage a three-day punk festival (see post below this one)  as an alternative to the Jubilee celebrations in June, means the city is getting ever more associated with that particular nice ‘n sleazy musical genre which swept through the nation in the late 1970s.

For, just a couple of miles away from where the festival will be based at the Bath Racecourse, is a house which has become the semi-permanent home for one of punk’s great survivors – The Stranglers.

The band have rented a house in the Lansdown area for the best part of three years and it is there that they have written the material that makes up their critically-acclaimed new studio album Giants which was released on Monday.

And, as further proof of the unlikely connection between the city and the band that brought the nation such memorable moments as No More Heroes, Peaches and Golden Brown, the closing track on the new  album is about the city of Bath – and more particularly the rented house that the Stranglers often call home.

“Yes, the song 15 Steps is about the house I’m actually sat in right now,” said singer/guitarist Baz Warne.

Honorary Bathonian Baz Warne

“We’ve had three years of fun here in Bath getting this album together and we’ve had some proper rock and roll, tear-the-wall down parties here as well as some really heavy sessions of song writing. After such epic nights I used to go upstairs and count the steps to the salvation of my bedroom – it was 15 steps in all so I wrote a song about it”.

Despite originally being from Sunderland, Baz has really found an affinity with Bath and the south-west in general. After joining the band in 2000 – alongside three of its four founder members, Jet Black, Dave Greenfield and Jean Jacques Burnel – Baz found that the band spent a great deal of time in the south west as their management and rehearsal studios were based in Norton St Philip.

He spent some years living in Frome before making the move to Bath where he shares a house with the other three Stranglers when they get together. And he can’t get enough of the place.

“I do love Bath,” he mused. “I absolutely love it.

“I feel I’m going to end up here in my old age as I really have an affinity with the place. It’s big enough to be a city but not too big that it’s an urban sprawl.

“There’s just a nice vibe to it – it makes me smile and I love the west country way.”

As well as enjoying many places to eat and drink in Bath (15 Steps refers to how close the town is for a “spot of libation”) the city has given the band a place to think and write and given them the inspiration behind their new 10-track album which has already earned rave reviews.

The Stranglers fans are famous for their loyalty. This is  a group pictured at one of their tours last year.  
A number of the very varied tracks that make up this powerhouse of an album are set to be showcased alongside an equally eclectic mixture of ‘golden oldies’ on their current lengthy tour which includes a trip to the Bristol O2 Academy on Saturday, March 17.

The album has been a long time coming – it is the band’s first for five years – but Baz believes it is well worth the wait.

“The interest in Giants has just been unbelievable. I honestly do believe that it’s because we’ve made a very good record. When you are so involved in an album at some stage you have to sit back and listen to it objectively and I’ve reached the stage now where I can listen to the album in its entirety and just appreciate it. It takes a while to do that – but I’m there now.”

Although this is the band’s first release since the excellent Suite 16 in 2006, they have certainly not been idle and despite a collective age of over 240 years, the quartet have toured consistently in the interim period playing regualr tours and becoming firm festival favourites. And now they are in the midst of one of their biggest British and European tours for many years. Not bad for a band whose oldest member was elligible for a bus pass eight years ago....  

“You can’t beat live music and there’s been a real upswing in the gigging scene again,” enthused the ‘baby’ of the band Baz ( a mere 47).

Me and The Stranglers. I am the one in the suit!

"There’s no better way of informing people about your music than by just going out there. We like to just chuck our stuff in the back of the van and reconnect with people. For a band like us, especially the three old lads, it’s all in your psyche – the record is out so you go on tour because that’s what we’ve always done.  And the reaction is always great.”

As a band that has continued to defy their critics and are still together 38 years after first registering their name, The Stranglers see no reason why they should ever consider hanging up their famous bass lines and keyboard solos so we can expect to see them strutting their stuff through Bath for many a year to come....

“The Stranglers have survived because they never split up and they now have legendary status. Even the diehards that I’ve seen at 50 gigs down at the front, they’re standing around with their mouths open that they’re still seeing the Stranglers. And that’s brilliant,” said Baz.

Giants is available now and for details of the bands trip to the Bristol Academy – and the rest of the dates on their extensive British tour – see