Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Lost your cymbals? Lost your suit? Calling all bandsmen

Somewhere out there is a bandsman who has lost his cymbals and his suit in a red bag, in a taxi in Liverpool.

Don't panic! They have been handed in to a police station. They are at Eaton Road Police Station in Liverpool, waiting for you to collect them. There is a piece of paper in the bag with your name on, but no contact details. If you can say what your name is then you can be reunited with your lost items.

I am betting you are from a Pennines Brass Band on a mini tour or festival. Can everyone who reads this please share with your band mates.

(I was on tour with the Critical Incident Team last night but arrived a bit early so took the time to have a chat with the lads on the desk over a cup of coffee while I waited. I picked up this bit of gossip while I sat with them, thought it might be interesting and useful to someone, while we are on the theme of lost property).

Jack the Hat

Liam Robinson was at work one day at Lime Street Railway Station in Liverpool where he is a Station Manager. A call came through from Lost Property. They had found an important item left on a train, could he help?

It was a black fedora (hat) and inside the brim was a note which said words to the effect of "This hat belongs to Jack Straw MP, please return it to the House of Commons if you find it".

The staff in the lost property department knew that Liam was a Labour politician, being one of the Labour councillors for Kensington and Fairfield and they also knew that Jack Straw was a Labour MP. They wondered if he could reunite Jack with his hat.

A willing Liam took the hat away and phoned the constituency office. The staff were delighted to hear from him, Jack had been so unhappy to have lost his precious hat which he had worn for such a long time. And next time Liam was on his travels up north, he called into Jack's constituency office in Blackburn and dropped it off with a grateful owner.

All's well that ends well! Hat's the way to do it!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Builder working on the new wall at Wilson Henry

I didn't pose this cheeky shot, it was what I saw as I drove into our carpark at work last week and saw the bricklayer framed in this way, so I asked him if I could take a picture. It was a shot begging to be taken.

A trip down memory lane to the sweet shop

I saw these jigsaws for sale in Peter Barrett's Garden Centre in Preston on Tees and they made me smile

What do you remember eating?

Bistro Yard 2011 - June sees the flowers start to blossom

I went for pinks and reds mainly this year, for a colour theme, and have tried to avoid plants that are attacked by aphids or slugs. So no more petunias and instead busy lizzies, geraniums and fuschia mainly,  let me know what you think! I do need to do some weeding, the rear of the yard which is tiled is particular prone to dandelions.

Yarm Methodist Church - Wesley's favourite octagonal chapel

Yarm Methodist Church is my home church I guess. I go when I am visiting family and went with Mum last Sunday. I was delighted to see it had had a lovely paint refresh (from the Community PayBack team I understand, or perhaps the Probation Service), so after the service I took some photos for you to see.

It is known as Wesley's favourite octagonal chapel but I confess I don't know how much competition there is? It is certainly my favourite chapel - anywhere.

We were sitting upstairs on the balcony, so the shots look across to the choir, organ and altar, with one of the beginning of the downstairs congregation area and one across the balcony.

Friday, June 24, 2011

St George's Day, Liverpool Town Hall 2010

I just had this photo sent to me, hadn't seen it before, it is of me with Matthieu and Petronelle from the Merseyside Congolese Association, Cllr Paul Brant, and Gosia McKane of Merseyside Polonia. It was a reception to celebrate St George's Day with a multi-cultural audience in the Town Hall last year which I wrote about here
Nice photo.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Celebrating Labour History on Merseyside

Celebrating Labour History on Merseyside At Merseytravel, Hatton Garden:

Wed 6th July 2011

1911 was a tumultuous year for Liverpool, a general strike taking place through the long hot summer from June to August. There was continual growth of Transnational links between the UK and the USA including, emerging Jazz music which was to dominate the new century , a visiting art exhibition which captured the exciting new art for the emerging 20th century.

Merseytravel’s Union Learning Representatives together with our Cross Sector partners in the transport industry, Unionlearn, and North West TUC will be holding an event on the 6th July at Merseytravel, Room C which hopes to gain greater understanding of these events setting them in the wider context of the people's history of Merseyside.

Working with a group of young people we have explored various historical issues around the events of 1911, & we will be holding a bus tour to map these events so we can understand the impact on the City which has over time come to be known as a Radical City. If you would like to travel with us please contact 330 1200 as places are limited and we need to final numbers by the 1st July 2011.

After that, the day will be officially opened followed by a presentation and discussion around ‘Rhythms That Carry’ – taking a look at the influences which help to bring Liverpool a city near to Revolution.

We will be launching Ron Noon and Sam Davies pamphlet – 1911 The Great Liverpool Transport Strike.

This will be followed by a short film documenting the young person’s local history project.

Then there will be an opportunity to view various exhibition stands.

This event is a celebration of local history - it is an unique opportunity to understand the forces that shaped Liverpool at the turn of the 20th century.

I would be grateful if you could promote this event where ever possible.

If you have any queries please contact:

Paulette Lappin or Tony Norbury ( Union Learner Representatives) on 330 1200 and 1269
Or Laura Robertson-Collins, Unionlearn 0151 236 2321

· 10 – 11.30am Bus Tour following the strike route

· 11.45am Welcome by Cllr Dowd and Alan Manning NWTUC

· 12pm Rhythms that Carry

· 1.30pm Lunch

· 2pm Launch of Pamphlet -1911 and the Great Liverpool Transport Strike

- 2.30pm Young Persons Project

· 4.30pm Close

Exhibitions all day

Thursday, June 16, 2011

14 hours and counting... a Councillor's lot is a happy one, honest!

A policeman's lot may not be an 'appy one, but a councillor's lot can be fabulous, as my day has been today.

I got up bright and early and was in Kensington by 9am, where I picked up a key local resident and drove her to a local pharmacist to discuss his application for a new shop on Holt Road. Unfortunately, because of a breakdown in communications, he was not there, so we went back to her home in the area. She and her family were affected by the CPO process in the Edge Lane area so she invited me into her new place to see how beautiful their new home is, just across the road from the old one which has now been demolished and the site completely cleared.

From here I went to my surgery at Kensington library where I was a bit early so the staff rewarded me with a cup of coffee, cake and biscuits, from their own stash, yum! I also took the opportunity to take out a book about Sophie Scholl, the 21 year old woman who defied Hitler in Germany and was executed at the age of 21. I cannot wait to read it, coming as it does in my reading pattern, straight after a book based on Otto  Hampel who with his wife was executed in 1943 for similar acts. I dont think that modern day Brits, like me, can have the slightest idea what it was like for a social democrat to survive in Nazi Germany but these books really help.

Anyway, while I was beginning the new book, suitably refreshed, I was joined by four separate groups of constituents with issues around neighbour ASB, a housing  benefit case, an alcohol licence and requests for volunteer opportunities at Deane Road cemetery (I snatched his hand off). They were all good cases, two of which are ongoing and were about catch-ups. Towards the end of my session, the missing pharmacist turned up and we talked about the issue in hand but he also took some time to advise me about my ongoing battle to stop smoking and he gave me some practical advice and tools to help with that (popping back to the shop to gain the appropriate materials, great service!)

I left the surgery at about 11.10am having run on a bit and drove up to the Fire Station on Longmoor Lane in Aintree where I met Lynn Griffiths who is the President of the Carbon Monoxide Awareness Society. She and I have been working very closely together over the last 4 years to ensure that we are doing everything we can to raise awareness amongst ordinary people, landlords and health professionals about this insidious fatal poison. We spent a few hours working out our next steps to ensure that Liverpool remains the fulcrum around which the rest of the country's awareness will pivot. Michael J Price, my then fiance, died in January 1999 of CO poisoning so it is of huge importance to me that awareness and safety work is a priority.

I left Lynn at about 1pm and drove to the new LCC office for the City and North Liverpool City Council Neighbourhood staff on Wavertree Road to see how they were settling in. I spent an hour with the team, drinking their coffee and eating Alan Kelly's cherries, there being no biscuits or cake at this particular venue! We all caught up on who was doing what and who needed help from whom and which projects were going particularly well. I should say the new offices are ab fab and I hope they will really enjoy being there - Spellow Lane was not far away but Wavertree Road is even nearer so personally I am delighted, and they seem to be too. I found out some interesting stuff about a new void properties project that is just starting, looking at empty and derelict properties and finding out what the owners have in mind, whilst urging them to action to bring them back into use.

I left the team to come home for an hour where I started to catch up on my emails but was soon back out on the road, being due at the Innovation Park for 4pm to discuss the progress with the Edge Lane Retail Park. I was particularly concerned about the former Harry James motor showroom on Edge Lane and about the timetable of the relocation of businesses on Binns Road to their new location as well as the possible sweetener for roads and junctions in the area to ease congestion. It was a good meeting, well chaired by Malcolm Kennedy who has clearly got to grips with the issues in this area.

From there I drove straight to the Newsham Park Forum, which I chair, looking at the plans for the future development for the park and which is well attended by local residents, councillors, officers from the park, sport, recreation, Glendale who manage the actual park gardening etc, City Safe who handle local crime and ASB, the Friends of Newsham Park, the new model boating lake enthusiasts group, the Academy of St Francis of Assisi, et al. We had a great meeting, although it lasted nearly 3 hours which is too long, we must find a way to cut the chat down.

I was back home by about 8.30pm whereby I logged on to the laptop and have spent 3 hours on my council email, concerning Deane Road cemetery, umpteem case work emails, youth service reports and lots more besides. So, as I close at 11.30pm, after a 14 hour day (with the Secret Millionaire, an Asian woman in Burngreave in Sheffield playing in the background) I feel great about serving and making a difference. If you ever wondered what the benefit of being a councillor was, and why we should do this for what is not the greatest allowance in the world, you should have lived my life today, and then you would know. It's so bloody marvellous and fulfilling.

Police update from Kensington and Fairfield L7 police team

I received the following email from my favourite Police Sergeant in all the world, the wonderful Simon Joyce, and thought I would share it with you. (I have to say that because I know he is an avid reader of this blog and you have to keep in with the boys and girls in blue if you want to achieve really great results for your residents!)

In the past few months we have seen the number of Burglaries increase. We have responded well by increasing patrols and bringing in officers from further afield to patrol the area, we have had some of our officers working a night shift and duties extended to 3am every day for the past three weeks. Since the beginning of May over 100 people have been arrested during Operation Valiant. These have all been suspected or involved in Burglaries. Quite a few have presented themselves at local police stations to 'give themselves up' after we have been calling at all known addresses where they have been known to frequent. The result is a dramatic fall in burglaries, lots of changes in duties for us and a lot of meetings, events and training courses cancelled or missed.

We have and will continue to provide Target Hardening advice and free items to residents in Kensington and Fairfield and our CSO's continue to involve residents in setting up Home Watch Schemes. Any information you receive and also re-assurance you can provide to residents will not go amiss!

So as always, keep your intelligence coming and rest assured that we will pass everything on to the police anonymously if you prefer. We are winning the crime war in our area with your support and encouragement.

Central Youth Club wins city award for weekend programme

The young people, staff and management committee of Central Youth Club, Walker Street, Phythian, Kensington, L6 were delighted and honoured to receive an award from Plus Dane Housing Association  for their weekend programme of activity.

Julie Tomlinson, the Youth Engagement Manager, Enterprising Neighbourhoods from the Plus Dane Group told me that "Central Youth Club won the Plus Dane 'Youth Project' Award. The young people recognised the support the centre receives from volunteers and the weekend opening and detached work. The volunteers and the staff clearly have the needs of the children and young people in the neighbourhoods they work in at the heart of everything they do."

The weekend programme was supported in 2009/10 and 2010/11 by the Kensington and Fairfield councillors utilising the Labour Government's Working Neighbourhood Fund. Unfortunately this has now been scrapped by the LibDem/Tory Government and the money is not there any more, so it is a bitter sweet moment. An award for the club for truly great work was awarded as the programme drew to an end. From memory we paid around £50k last year and £30k the year before, from funds of around £120k or so, each year. The money paid for the running costs of the club to be open (heat, light, etc), the staff and management of the club, activity costs etc, for Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Manager Marie Wallenfang was the surprised recipient of the award, seen here with Julie and with Councillor Steve Munby.

Local people in Kensington have made their priorities very clear to their councillors many times in many different consultation opportunities - we want more for our young people to do, to keep them happily active and involved and out of trouble. And it was this drive, and our work with the youth club over the last five years, that ensured that we funded this project.

I have a very full report of the programme, which runs to 19 pages and explains where the young people live who use the youth club, their colour, age, gender etc. It also details their activities and the exciting projects they have undertaken. If you would like a copy, please let me know.

And if anyone has £50k to help keep the club going, please let me know that too!

Deane Road Cemetery - Art and Photography Project

The cemetery gates were open on Sunday 5th June for the launch of the Photography and Arts projects. The response was wonderful with over 70 member of the public taking the opportunity to find out more, join Saul's fascinating tour or just amble around and enjoy the ambience. Professional and amateur artists and photographers are invited to gain inspriation from the rich history, create work and capture images throughout the forthcoming months as the restoration work gets underway.

The gates will be open again to the public on Sunday 10th July, 10.00am - 3.00pm. For more information contact Lisa Shearwood-Vingoe: or 0151 285 1373

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Refounding Labour part I

Following on from our terrible 2010 General Election results (most of the NW aside), the leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband and his champion, Peter Hain, have launched Refounding Labour, a discussion document intended to focus LP members' minds on the battle ahead for the support of a greater number of the electorate.

I will have much more to say about this in due course (indeed I am leading a discussion with Liverpool West Derby on Friday night) but in the meantime, I would like to share this blog that I was sent by Harry Barnes, lovely MP for NE Derbyshire until 2005 and now at Dronfield Labour Party.

It would be helpful if interested party members would read it and comment to Harry, rather than me. I don't profess to agree with all the content, but in the interest of sharing and enhancing the debate, I leave it here for your consideration.

Photo: I am loving this picture which illustrates Harry's blog, he cannot have known about our own dear Widow Twanky in Liverpool Wavertree, so it is particularly delicious to include it here.

Nice bit of scam for tea?

I do feel so sorry for this lady who has written to my company's email address today, she is on her kneels after all! Imagine Daddy leaving you a cool $5million dollars which he had set aside for the creation of his new business (that is a hell of a legacy for an engineer by the way, don't you think? He must have been terrific at what he did!). But poor old Glays cannot get hold of her inheritance without my help. Somehow she has reached out across the globe and found me, and she knows I am exactly the right person to help her. She apparently trusts me to "manage" this huge wallop of dosh for 7 years, and invest it in any good companies in this country (William Hill perhaps or Leo's Casinos?), and then be good enough to hand it back, having earned a 15% fee without her even knowing my name, address, occupation, telephone number (bank account details)... or anything really.

It really fills my heart with joy to know that there are such lovely, trusting people out there.

From:Miss Glays Dia

01 bp 25687 abobo
abidjan,ivory coast


My name is Glays Dia from Abidjan Ivory Coast and I will be 18 years old on the 22nd of Novermber.My father Engineer Wilson Dia died in july 17 2010 after being involved in a motor accident. Before my father died, my mother had earlier died as a result of Diabetes.Before my father died in the hospital while taking treatment, he told me that there is Five million one hundred thousand united states dollars(US5,100,000.00) he has in a bank here in Abidjan Cote D'Ivoire.

He said that the money was meant for establishing his business in Abidjan - Ivory Coast. Though, according to my father he deposited the money in his own name and mentioned me in the documents as the next of kin .Before his death he advised me to seek for a trust worthy person abroad who will help me invest and manage this money for me until i am capable to handle it. Now I have succeeded in locating the bank in Abidjan and also confirmed the money is in there confidentiality.

But the bank said from the agreement my father has with them that i can only claim the money when i am upto 25 years. And if i am not upto that age, i should present a guardian who will help me in recieving the money and for investment purposes in his or her country. Now I am seeking for your assistance to help me transfer out this money from this bank he deposited it to your account so that you can be able to manage and invest it in any good business in your country and also help me to move out from here so that I can continue my education which stopped since my parents death.

I am Waiting anxiously to hear from you so that we can discuss how you can assist me on this as my guardian since it is the only condition that the bank said this my inheritance can be release to me at this my present age or i can wait until i am upto 25 years and above. Thanks for your kind attention and i will appreciate to receive your reply to know if you will be able to help me stand as my guardian for my inheritance be release to me through your kind help.Please i am willing to give you 15% from the inheritance for standing as my guardian and also know that you are going to manage it for me .Please i am on my kneels begging you to accept standing as my guardian so that my inheritance be transfer out from here.Please i will like you to send this information to me which will be what i will be presenting to the bank when i hear from you.

1.Your name and your address.
2.Your Telephone
4.Age/Marital Status

Thanks and God Bless
Miss Glays Dia

God bless you too Miss Dia, I am amazed that there are still scam artists out there that believe that such nonsense is a worthwhile ROI. And incidentally, if you are going to make up a name, at least aim for some consistency with your forename, in terms of the email address you invent and the name you sign your email off with. Really a child of five could have done better...

Photo: From Scamsters

6th annual Newsham Park Arts Festival - June 25th 2011


• To promote good use of our beautiful Newsham Park

• To produce an arts event as prestigious as the ones in Sefton Park

• To offer enriching activities to the Kensington and Fairfield community calendar

• To raise arts and cultural awareness

• To bring different cultures together

• To raise aspirations in the local community

• To provide performance and creative arts opportunity for the local/wider community

• To promote community cohesion

• To reduce anti social behaviour

• To provide an opportunity for artists, agencies and providers to meet with the community

Straight male bloggers pretending to be lesbians?

Shocking news has emerged this week that not one man, but two, have been pretending to be lesbian bloggers on the internet.

Yesterday it was revealed that Tom McMaster, a married Scottish guy in his 40s was pretending to be a gay girl in Damascus, talking about the troubles in Syria. His deception only came to light when he suggested that Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari had been taken into custody by Syrian officials which generated a big campaign amongst the LGBT community in particular around the world to try to get "her" released.

Today it has been revealed that a second man, Bill Graber has been masquerading for three years as Paula Brooke on LezGetReal, and to add insult to injury, he was commenting yesterday on the story about Tom McMaster's deception.

There are suggestions in both cases from the men, that they felt that they would not be listened to so intently without this deception and that it was a way to raise the profile of the issues they wrote about. But frankly I don't buy that. It was a cynical ploy designed to attract a wider readership than they would otherwise manage as white middle-aged blokes. And it is only the anonymity of the internet that has let them both get away with it - until now at least.

I am insulted, angry and generally pretty vexed about this. It is hard enough living a world that sometimes struggles to contain its prejudice, hard enough in particular to raise awareness of the real issues facing some genuine gay women around the world - women like Brenda Namigadde for instance, without fakes and frauds muddying the water.

One genuine woman is hurting today, we are told, after learning that the Syrian woman she had been developing a long-term online relationship with, with a view to one day meeting properly, turned out to be a married bloke. There is no excuse for playing with people's feelings like that, it is not merely a case of using a touch of artistic licence to enable news to be covered in a different way as they may suggest, it is a disturbing, parasitic, cruel and damaging act of betrayal.

And ultimately it is an act that will make it more difficult in future for blogging gay women living in places around the world where their sexuality is an issue to find a readership to hear their stories.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Five years and counting - award winning blogging from Louise Baldock

I had thought the five years were up in June, but having had a quick look, it seems my first entry was April 24th 2006, so in fact I have already passed that particular hurdle. Hurrah!

I am not sure now what I thought my long term blogging future would be, when I set this up initially with the encouragement of a few blogging Labour Party members from other regions, neither how long I thought it would last, or what I imagined I would write about over all of the years. But I am really pleased and quite surprised to be honest, that I am still here and have won faithful readers in that time.

The very well-read and popular blogs like Iain Dale and Guido Fawkes who have reported on national issues are not really competitors of mine, for as a parochial blogger in the NW of England, I was never in a position to challenge them. I have preferred to keep it local and occasionally personal and to talk about things that Liverpool residents and politicians would be interested in.

I have also seen many other local blogs come and go over those five years, because if truth be told, whilst the writing is not so hard, the staying power, commitment and the keeping on with the keeping on, is where the real battle is. Many bloggers have launched in a spirit of optimism and then become increasingly disillusioned either because they are not getting enough comments or because they find the comments they do get to be so negative that they don't care to keep it up. And for many, they are too busy living their interesting lives to have time to write about it.

I have been extremely lucky in both those regards. I will admit to having  become disheartened for a while due to the ferocity of a certain canine competitor but I never let it put me off - and it would seem my life is never so interesting that I don't have time to write entries. I love writing and it is great to meet people around the city who will talk to me about things I have written and which they enjoyed, particularly if it relates to their own events or areas of work. I can always make time to cover the things that matter to the good people of Kensington and Fairfield in particular and of course those like Nick Small for instance, who prefer to hear about my "ordinary stuff", where I took my family for Sunday dinner when they came to visit or what happened on my holidays in Ireland....

Some entries are more "popular" than others certainly, in terms of the number of people who comment on them and in some cases get hot under the collar too. A quick look through the last five years reveals some interesting debates.

There was this one on the Liverpool Nativity for instance that brought some of the less charitable residents of the UK crawling out of the blogosphere

Or a radio4 debate about the Capital of Culture from May 2008 - was the LibDem administration really a basket case? Was Jane Kennedy really toast? We all speculated.

I discussed the chances of my finally getting a new laptop from LDL after three years as a councillor, as part of the hugely expensive contract for IT provision. The LDL contract remains as controversial now as it did then.

There was the infamous entry I wrote about the LibDems in July 2007, that barely anyone read and very few people commented on, and which raised no eyebrows at the time. Ironically it cost me my place on the shadow Executive Board a few years later in April 2009 thanks to the Liverpool Echo editorial which accused me of having a potty mouth - the guy who wrote that editorial must be just about as strait-laced as they come, I reckon. I guess history will decide who was right about what I actually wrote...but I know where my money would be placed.

The entry that was the most commented on was one concerning our quest to find a suitable wall for a mural in Kensington or Fairfield for the Liverpool Mural Project to paint upon. Some critics thought we were advocating sectarian images, which of course we were not! Sadly we were never able to find one which was our loss, as the two they did paint in the city were simply magnificent.

My entry about fighting infertility attracted interest around the world and still ranks very highly in a search for my name, as does the one about this year's Liverpool Remembers event commemorating the holocaust and genocide experienced by our new residents fleeing from persecution in places like Rwanda and looking at modern day hate crime. The BBC ran with it across the country.

I have had endless battles with the BNP over different entries about Equality and Diversity and I had a very interesting debate with a fathers for justice style campaigner with an entry about filicide - fathers who kill their children.

One of my proudest blogs was about Liverpool's first official Pride (did you like what I did then?) and one of the prettiest was this one about the beautiful dahlias in Reynold's Park which I go to see every year on my birthday.

I see from the stats that this will be my 1431st entry, not long to go now before the 1500th, I wonder what that will be about? And that brings me on to thinking about the next five blogging years. I am wondering about refreshing the template, the colours and the design are okay but they are looking a bit updated, I may celebrate that 1500th post with a new look.

I am also very keen to add sound and vision podcasts to the blog - so that I can perhaps stand in front of Kensington market and speak into a camera next time I talk about it, or read out the poem that I like to recite at British Citizenship ceremonies and capture it for those who are not there.

But for the moment, I would like to thank all my readers, contributors and enthusiasts, those who have me listed on their blog-rolls, those who have supported and encouraged me by talking "off page" about entries they have enjoyed, those who have sent interesting information for publication and I would of course like to thank Total Politics for their blog awards, for three of the last five years, recognising this work.

I know there are those who would rather I was silent, but if you knew me well, you would know that I have always had plenty to say for myself, so that is a vain hope. And I love that this country celebrates free speech.

So, I shall push on for the next five years and look forward to every new blogger who joins the sphere.

Orange Prize for Fiction 2011 - Liverpool style

On Wednesday night, while the nation waited in the Royal Festival Hall, London for the result of the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction, Liverpool was enjoying its own evening in the Bluecoat Arts Centre. Organised by Liverpool Libraries, the event which has been running for years now, gives local readers the chance to discuss the shortlist and make its own choice.

I went along as a member of the KVFM online readers club, The Reading Room, where we had held our own discussion about the prize at our session on Monday morning.

The prize is given to the best of fiction written by women - it celebrates excellence, originality and accessibility in women's writing from throughout the world.

 The shortlist was
•Emma Donoghue (Irish) - Room; Picador; 7th Novel
•Aminatta Forna (British/Sierra Leonean) - The Memory of Love; Bloomsbury; 2nd Novel
•Emma Henderson (British) - Grace Williams Says it Loud; Sceptre; 1st Novel
•Nicole Krauss (American) - Great House; Viking; 3rd Novel
•Téa Obreht (Serbian/American) - The Tiger's Wife; Weidenfeld & Nicolson; 1st Novel
•Kathleen Winter (Canadian) - Annabel; Jonathan Cape; 1st Novel

Each book was presented and discussed by different book group leaders from around the city and then we voted for the book we thought most likely to win. Liverpool voted for Room by Emma Donoghue which you may recall was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize last year too. I thought it was marvellous and have bought and shared copies with friends since I first read it. But I didn't think it would win the Orange prize, because unlike young Jack the protagonist, it had had its day in the sun last year and I thought it very unlikely that it would win this new prize.

In fact the national judges went for the same book that our book group had chosen as its winner earlier in the week - Téa Obreht's The Tiger's Wife. I have not read it yet, but when I tell you that the author is only 25 and not writing in her first language, you will agree that she must have a skill beyond her years and beyond the ability of most of us. I am looking forward to discussing it at a future readers' group but the demand will be high for copies so it could be months before we have the opportunity.

In July we are going to read Jane Eyre, which I love and shall enjoy debating with our readers.

Well done to the authors, well done to all of our Liverpool presenters, well done to our dedicated book groups and readers, well done to Peter and the staff at Liverpool libraries for organising another great evening.

Photo: I was invited up from the audience by Peter Wallace, Liverpool's Reader Development Officer and member of the KVFM Reading Room book group to present book gifts to the lucky quiz and prize draw winners. I think this photo shows us struggling to read the surname of the winner, congratulations to Anne Lev on winning the prize and commiserations to Anne Lee who thought for a happy moment that it had been she who was successful. You couldn't make it up!

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Why I am a republican (rather than a monarchist)

Sometimes it helps to understand a perspective if you write it down. I knew I didn’t support Alternative Voting but it was not until the second or third time that I wrote about it that I was able to fully articulate to my own satisfaction just what it was about AV that I didn’t like.

So, in the same spirit, I thought I might write about why I am a republican and let you find the weakness in my arguments so that I can revisit them and hopefully sharpen them up a bit.

I think the core of the strength of my feeling comes first from 7 years of study (O level, A level and Degree) of British History (actually in truth that should be English history, I am much weaker on Welsh and Scottish history. I can talk about Owen Glendower and King Henry, and about Edward I and Edward II in Wales and Scotland, and about James Ist and VIth but really I am only peripherally aware of much of what went on outside England between 1000 and about 1900! You can blame the education system for that.)

What I did learn about however was the Harrying of the North, the Peasants Revolt, various dreadful taxes to raise money to fight in France or Spain, the Crusades, Culloden, the Tolpuddle martyrs, the witch-finders, the persecution of Catholics, medieval servitude, Henry VIII, Charles I, the enclosures… I could go on, but I am sure you have long since caught up with the sentiment…brutal bullying and subjugation.

Those would be the arguments against absolute monarchy in the days when the King or Queen’s word was the law and we were all at the mercy of their capriciousness (remember Miranda Richardson playing Good Queen Bess in Blackadder? Off with their heads!)

But that is not our modern day monarchy, what we now have foisted upon us is something called a “constitutional monarchy” which is in itself laughable as we don’t have a constitution for anything else that I can see. 1688 saw the introduction of this new form of monarchy, one which has continued to evolve through various permutations to the situation we have today. Where the Queen or King is titular, civic and has no real power but embodies and represents the country (rather like our Lord Mayor does in Liverpool in fact but on a bigger stage). Our monarchs now are expected to be neutral (although the current heir to the throne in the UK can find this difficult as has become apparent over the decades). They can no longer send us to war with (mainly) European countries because they have been unable to have their own way over who they would like to marry, or which jewel they would like to possess, or whose religion they despise, or whose cousin they wish to poke in the eye.

It would be churlish of me not to recognise at this point that we have made some ground up as a country and as a people since Charles I was separated from his crown in a very brutal way.

So, it is to be celebrated that the current monarchy in our country does not have the powers that his or her forebears did. However, that does not change my views that our system in 2011 is nonetheless at least 50 years out of date and needs to go.

I like the analogy with the Lord Mayor (of Liverpool) as that takes me right to the heart of my argument.

Lord Mayors (always Lords, even when they are women) are titular and civic representatives of the people, in fact the LM is “the first citizen” unlike HRH who is not a citizen at all, but above such things. The LM can wear finery and present awards and open fetes, fayres and festivals and generally act as the face of the city (or the people) but does not hold that position for life or by right of birth, but is elected by the people. Technically they are not elected to the civic position by the people as such, but they are elected by the people as councillors and then elevated by their council peers to become the LM for the duration of the term of office (traditionally one year). Contrastingly, the monarch is born into the position, elected by no-one, and serves from the death of the previous monarch until their own death (The King is dead, long live the King).

So my first objection to a monarchy is that it is not an elected position, chosen by the people, who should be able to decide who their first citizen is, their head of state, but is a hereditary position. Which means that even when they are senile, or boorish, or ignorant, or prejudiced we are stuck with them. They are not our choice, they are what we are given.

My second objection is that the job is for life, so even if you are the worst constitutional monarch ever (think of someone like Edward VII), nobody can tip you out of the job or stop you getting it, it is yours by right forever and ever, until you die, and the people can only hope that your successor is better.

Then we come to the riches that we endow upon our monarchs. Consider the Lord Mayor, who is by and large a wonderful representative of the people for their year in office. They do not own the Town Hall or St George’s Hall or the fancy flagstones in Exchange Place. They don’t own the physical chains of office, Frank Prendergast cannot flog the best bling in the armoury to pay off his mortgage, they only wear them and polish them until the next LM comes along. They don’t own the limousine and nor do they employ the staff who wait upon them, who they cannot sack or appoint at will. They don’t move into the upper floors of the Town Hall or the penthouse suite of the nearest 5 star hotel, they return each night to their own respectable homes.

"So unlike the home life of our own dear Queen”

My third objection therefore is to the huge and retained wealth put at the disposal of those individuals who make up our Royal families.

Our monarchs have castles, palaces, huge acreages of land, they have servants and lackeys and flunkeys who they can appoint or sack as they fancy, they have first dibs on the harvests of that land, they decide who gets to visit, to stay and even which bedroom they can sleep in. They have access to huge wealth with which they can decide to buy racehorses or gin or yachts… and they retain those rights from birth until death. Like our LM they get to wear the crown jewels and the tiaras but unlike our LM they can wear them forever, not for just one year – and they can wear them in the bath if they like whereas the LM can only take the city jewels out if the staff are satisfied as to the safety and appropriateness of the occasion.

I think my fourth objection to the monarchy is the one that drives me the hardest. The subservience required, bending the knee, standing up as they enter a room for instance. Some will no doubt say that it is my own arrogance that needs addressing, while others will understand perhaps it is my all encompassing belief in equality, but I really fail to see why I should bend my knee, or curtsey, to members of the Windsor family, when they do not bestow the same privilege on my own family for instance. My mother is a wonderful human being, she is at least as worthy as the Queen, why should anyone, least of all her, be expected to bow down to another as though she were lesser? I have had many invites to garden parties in my time, if you hang around in politics for long enough, they come along like buses, but I won’t ever go, for precisely this reason.

And the fifth reason is that I am bored by people who tell me that tourists visit the UK because of the Queen and the Royal family. We are told that they are vital to our economy. That is tripe. Of course tourists visit Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle and Kensington Palace etc, but they were already here, visiting York Minster or Bath or dare I say it, the Liverpool Tate or the Beatles Museum. Tourists could visit all the royal palaces in a republic, we don’t have to bulldoze them, wandering around could be pleasurable, with remembrance of things past, like it is with Hampton Court, we don’t have to have ye olde authentic royal actually on the premises as it were…in fact it would be easier to have a proper shufty if the powers that be weren’t worrying that we might come across Brenda eating her cereal out of Tupperware at the breakfast table.

And then I come to Ireland, with Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese, wonderful civic heads of state, proving once and for all that you can do the job of a Queen without needing a monarchy. You can be a fabulous representative of your country, welcoming all foreign visitors, living somewhere special, showing off a bit of flash jewellery every now and again while living a good and decent life, without hereditary and state sponsored servitude. Elected by the people, chosen or rejected, as the person they would like to see greeting the USA President next time he or she comes to call, but not foisted upon them.

Of course, in my Republic world, we would not be offered the likes of celebs such as Richard Branson or Alex Ferguson, or Victoria Beckham or god help us, Cilla Black, but ideally some hitherto unknown, decent, thoughtful individual who had something to offer, although I reckon Sue Johnston would do at a pinch. But there are some wonderful people out there who could do a great job, and yes I do think my Mum would be perfect for the job, but please don’t let it be hereditary!

I rest my case I think.

Fair play!

As her Agent, I handed in Wendy's election expenses today to the Elections Office in Liverpool City Council. They are the most helpful and supportive staff, for all candidates and agents of all parties and I often stop for a bit of a chat when I have reason to call in. I asked, just out of interest really, what would happen with the expenses, would they be checked? Would someone look through to see whether my maths was right, whether I had the requisite copies of invoices, whether I had chosen the right categories for our various expenditures etc?

I was reminded that returns are not checked by the staff, it is neither their duty nor responsibility, they merely accept them, record their receipt, hold on to them for a year and then pass them to the Electoral Commission. I asked whether the Electoral Commission check them but nobody was entirely sure. It was not even clear whether anyone at the Commission is aware, chases up or reprimands any candidate who has failed to submit their expenses, although one would assume they do at least employ a few AAs and AOs to check this fairly fundamental requirement.

I know that anybody - any tax payer, any member of the public, political or otherwise, can come into the office and ask to see any expense returns from any candidate for 12 months after an election, but the staff were unable to recall when the last time was that anyone had actually requested a look at any returns from any candidate in any ward in any local elections. Although to be fair, they did recall a small amount of interest in a few returns in the occasional General Election.

We did discuss the thought that had any local candidate put up hundreds of billboards or published 30 page newspapers, it might generate some interest in their returns, but it seems that because we clearly all do keep within the official limits, we don't bother to check our opponents. We know what is spent broadly because we can see what material is published, how glossy or plain it is, how widely it is circulated, how many posters are displayed in windows, how many public meetings are held (virtually none at all these days) and we know the relative costs of different printers. It is interesting that the public don't bother to check returns either. I wonder if that is because they don't know that they can or whether it is because instinct tells them that nobody is running amok with a cheque book?

You can slate the Representation of the People Act all you like, but it certainly seems to have seen off the very last vestiges of Rotten Boroughs, financially speaking. (Remember David Mellor and his "Up your Hacienda Jimmy, your attempt to buy the British electorate has failed" cry in the 1997 general election  before RPA was enacted?)

I was allowed to spend upwards of £1000 on Wendy's campaign legally but spent less than £500 and even that sum was inflated because I produced a more expensive full colour glossy "election address" compared to most candidates who made do with two colour printing on white 90gm paper. And all of that is obvious to anyone who lives in a ward, it is very hard to spend Brewster's Millions with nobody noticing - unless you are a staggeringly inept agent.

With my hand on my heart I can say that despite having been active as an agent, campaigner or candidate in hundreds of elections in the last 20 years, I personally have never once been to examine a single return of any candidate's expenses, ever, anywhere. And I find this somewhat thought provoking, so I thought I would leave this here for your contemplation and remark.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Diamond Jubilee Bank Holiday provision 2012

You will know I am a member of Republic, but that doesn't mean I am not interested in finding out about next year's Whistun/May Bank Holiday changes and additions. An early warning can often help with the planning of holidays, work calendars, meeting planners etc, so I thought I would share this news with you.

The celebrations marking 60 years of the Queen's reign will centre around an extended weekend in 2012 on 2, 3, 4 and 5 June.

The 2012 late May bank holiday will be moved to Monday 4 June 2012 and an additional Jubilee bank holiday will be on Tuesday 5 June 2012.

Schools in England and Wales will be able to close on Tuesday 5 June 2012 for the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. If a school is already closed on 5 June for half term or another reason, it will be able to close on an alternative day.

The Queen's reign began on 6th February 1952 upon the death of her father, George VI (the stutterer from The King's Speech).  The coronation was June 2nd 1953, a year later, to allow time for an official period of mourning. Presumably it is to honour this latter date that the bank holidays have been chosen.
Photo: Muriel Delahaye, "Bank Holiday Monday"

Thursday, June 02, 2011

More successes for Ebay workshops in Kensington!

Little note from Alan Tapp

Last month we told you about recent successes including:

Vintage Camera – SOLD for £147.00
Beatles LP – SOLD for £103.69
Binoculars – SOLD for £68.00

Well last weekend we’ve just broke our own record for a sale via our Community EBAY account:

A Gentle Giants sculpture of Trinity from “The Matrix” has just SOLD for........£240.00!!

If you’d like to find out more about how to generate income using EBAY come along to our next workshop:

Monday 6th June 1-4pm. You can guarantee a place by phoning KCLC on 260 1006 – or just turn up on the day.

The workshop is FREE and includes refreshments!!!

You do not have to be an EBAY novice to benefit from these workshops. We are receiving positive feedback from users already registered with EBAY that have discovered several ways of maximising their profits as a result of attending the workshops. All welcome!

Hope to see you on 6th June at Kensington Community Learning Centre, opposite MacDonalds, Liverpool, L6

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Art and Photography Open Day this week at Deane Road Jewish Cemetery

Professional and amateur artists and photographers are invited to visit a historic Liverpool cemetery to create artistic work that will help capture the many different aspects of this important landmark. Deane Road Jewish Cemetery is a fascinating final resting place of many of Liverpool’s leading entrepreneurs, scientists and artists of the Victorian age.

Supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, plans are being developed to restore the cemetery, creating a visitors centre and formal garden, with improvement works to the Grade II listed entrance and surrounding walls.

The art and photography programme is a wonderful opportunity for local people to be part of this important heritage project.

The first open day for photographers and artists to visit the cemetery and begin their work will be on Sunday 5th June from 10am until 3pm with a guided tour at 10.30am.

Artists will be invited to create work based on the cemetery and its rich history, with the opportunity to display their work at an exhibition at a local venue this autumn.

Photographers will have the opportunity to photograph the site before during and after restoration works with an exhibition to be held when the work is complete.

The cemetery will be open on further dates to allow access for those taking part.

Just turn up