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As I said when the announcement was originally made, I have just reached a stage in my life where I feel I need to do something different and the fact that I have absolutely no idea whatsoever what that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.