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.