Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Packed evenings ahead

I am out for the next couple of evenings, and my destinations could scarcely be more different.

On Thursday night I am going to the third installment of the National Training Programme for School Governors, and on Friday it's the Mayor's Ball here in Prestwich. One of the two events is black tie and involves a silver-service meal followed by frivolity into the early hours. I only hope I remember which of the two it is...

I have high hopes for the training course actually. The second session last week was very informative - all about the strategic role of school governors. There was a rant against the government's Choice agenda at one point. It wasn't from me, but it certainly got people talking aobut the merits (or otherwise) of the local High School turning into a "Sports College" over night for little apparent reason! Unfortunately we didn't have time to have a proper debate about the issue and most people seemed not to really grasp the full issue, but it was an interesting way for the conversation to go!

So we shall see how it goes. And even if it's rubbish, at least I can look ahead to the ball!



A dilemma

I am in a quandary. My mind has been full of it for a few days, hence the lack of blog action.

I work in Local Government as an officer, and am also politically active with the Liberal Democrats in my spare time. Unfortunately, these two things aren’t compatible, because there is an obvious conflict of interest when I work in a politically-run organisation, and also participate in politics outside of work. The thinking goes that I might fail to give impartial advice in work, either to scupper the opposition or help my side.

Obviously I wouldn’t do this, but I understand perfectly well the potential conflict. As it happens it actually helps both my job and my activism that I have an understanding of the other.

But sadly the conflict remains, and this leaves me with a dilemma. I have more or less reached the threshold at work above which I cannot legally rise without invoking the “conflict of interest” rule. So I can’t get promoted unless I stop being politically active. But I don’t want to stop. The alternative is to try and get work in another industry. But I have never really worked in anything but Local Government, and have had little luck in finding a suitable job elsewhere as yet.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not bemoaning my luck – I am paid well and I can continue in my current role without any problems. It’s just that I can’t go any further! Which is extremely frustrating, truth be told.

So tonight I have been studying ahead of an interview I have for an NHS job on Friday. I am not sure what the rules are there regarding political activity, but I am going to find out.

And in the meantime, if anyone has any jobs going, you know where I am!


Monday, November 27, 2006


Rainy Running Round

The onset of cold days has coincided with my discovery of the “bag of hot chicken goujons for £1” stall on Oldham Market, and my lunchtime trips there have necessitated a return to the ways of the runner, in order to shake off my increasingly wobbly belly.

I'm a bit bored of the old route into Whitefield, so tonight I varied my route to take in a bit more of the Ward and see if I could spot any issues of note. I have found no better way of truly testing how good pavement and street lighting provision is, than by running on wet and leaf covered roads in the dark. And so it was tonight as I ran the 5k(ish) from Clifton Road, down Bury New Road, turning onto Hilton Lane, right on to and up Butt Hill Road, onto Barnhill and Agecoft Road East, right on and up to Butterstile Lane, round Prestwich Hills, back down Butterstile and onto Sandy Lane, down Lowther Road and St Anne’s Road and back home along Bury New Road.

It sounds quite impressive when I write it like that!

My feet were hurting quite badly (that must be where the goujons go), and I was a bit worried at one point that I was having a heart attack, but I survived. I have been looking a bit too closely at that British Heart Foundation advert with the man with the belt tightening across his chest. I was nearly that man tonight.

Anyway, it turns out that there are a few problems I encountered, although they are ones that we have mentioned before. The pavements are still a problem on Butt Hill and Barnhill – it’s not easy to run in the wet and dark with loose chippings everywhere. Also, the leaves on St Anne’s Road are very slippery and forced me onto the road more than once – a situation not helped by the overgrowing hedges and shrubs from people’s gardens.

Local Liberal Democrats have been pressuring the Council to try and rectify these problems for a while now. Progress isn’t as quick as we’d like (the Council get a lot of requests for leaf-clearing at this time of year, as you’d expect!), but we’ll keep the pressure on.

I will check out hitherto unexplored areas of the Ward next time I’m out! The problem is that getting down to Rainsough requires running back up the hill (!), so I may send out Cllr O’Hanlon instead, and have a look round Sedgley whilst he struggles!


Sunday, November 26, 2006


No presents, more leaflets

Well, the weekend’s shopping didn’t go quite according to plan. Despite spending six hours in Manchester on Saturday afternoon / evening, I didn’t manage to buy a single present, and spent fifteen unnecessary pounds on food from the Christmas Markets instead. I think I suffer from some kind of "Shopper's Bewilderment." There's so much choice that I go a bit mad, and am incapable of any kind of purchase whatsoever. There's the whole new wing of the Arndale Centre to explore as well, which added a whole extra dimension to the problem.

I think next weekend I will change my tactics, and go alone rather than with friends. I can’t bring myself to put them through my hours of agonising over what to get for people, but I can easily do it to myself. If I start at 9 and stop at 6, I should at least buy something. Even if it is only my lunch.

It was a much more successful weekend on the Focus delivery front. The new edition of St Mary’s Focus has been finished and we started the rounds yesterday. The group out on Saturday managed to knock off Gardner Road and the surrounding streets, and today we knocked off Agecroft Rd. I also added Mountside Crescent to the “done” list, which is always one I enjoy putting to bed because of the steps and hill-climbing involved. It gets no flatter no matter how many time I do it.

I have been informed by my friendly Focus colleagues that I look "Like something out of a 1970's band" on the front cover photo. I must admit that my Grandpa's sheepskin coat was perhaps not the best item of clothing to be wearing for the photo, but then I didn't know it was happening, so I can't be blamed. If any reader has any more complimentary suggestions as to what I may look like (I myself quite fancy "dashing"), then please let me know. Whatever I look like, it's a lot better than what Donal O'Hanlon and I are pictured in front of - the still-cordoned-off Retreat fountain, which is in dire need of demolition to be replaced with more seating, more greenery, and become the town centrepiece that residents want and deserve.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


A good weekend?

This weekend promises great things. I am going Christmas shopping in Manchester today (after some lunchtime Focus delivery), where I will buy a load of useless trinkets for friends, and make my way through a shocking amount of money for the exclusive purpose of giving and receiving unwanted tat that will clutter my house for years.

I have bought for my Mum and Tamsin already, so there are plenty more people to get for.

After that, we’re going ice-skating on the new temporary rink in Piccadilly Gardens, where I will cling to the side-rail like a vertigo-sufferer on stilts, whilst Tam glides across the ice like a swan. She's a dancer, so careering across a frozern surface whilst balancing on the edge of a blade comes a little more naturally to her.

But ice skating is something I have never really got to grips with. Falling with force onto a surface that is both rock hard and freezing cold, whilst dodging high-speed knives coming at you from all directions is NOT my idea of a good time, and yet it seems to attract so many people. I once managed to pull off what a BBC commentator would have described as a "triple axle with pike," although this was less to do with inate skill, and more to do with being struck a glancing blow by a passer by as I lost my balance, and being sent spinning off in all directions. The illusion of professionalism was shattered on landing, where I neglected to carry on with my routine, and instead crawled on all fours to the side, nursing my bruises.

After the ice skating/falling, we’re going to the Royal Exchange to see a play. Which should be far more sedate.

When it comes to Christmas presents, Tam's parents are always a challenge. For starters, there is the perennial problem of how to refer to them on the card. I am nowhere near confident enough to jump in gung-ho and call them “Colin and Viv” straight away. They may throw me out on my ear for my cheek! But then, I have known them for six years, so “Mr and Mrs Thomson” sounds a bit staid. I may just avoid it altogether, and hope they don’t notice. An astoundingly large “MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!” greeting inside the card, plus maybe a smiley face and a Christmas tree drawing, may make them forget that the whole thing isn’t addressed…

When I am with them in person, I imagine I will do what I have done my whole life, with parents of friends, and parents of girlfriends, which is NEVER to refer to them directly in the first person, and always talk about them as if they lived in a different time and place, even if they are standing right next to me. For instance, asking her Dad whether “Tam’s Mum would like a cup of tea,” and thus avoiding the issue altogether.

Pointing always works too. “Would you like a cup of tea?” [point finger accusingly].

Or just pretending to forget that you ever knew the name in the first place: “Would you like a cup of tea, er… er…” [make Royal Wave motion with hand as if summoning correct name from inner recesses of mind, until sentence helpfully concluded by object of question].

This method has its advantages and disadvantages. If performed correctly, the recipient of the request will inadvertently let you know how they’d like to be addressed:
“Would you like a cup of tea, er… er…”
"YES! Vivian! That's right. Good Lord, how did I forget? After all, I have known you now for six years!"

But on the other hand, in my case, after six years, forgetting my girlfriend’s Mother’s name is just plain rude.

Once again, even Christmas, the time of joy, presents nothing but worry.



A successful end to the week

I returned home from London last night, but hurried out again for a quiz night I was attending (our team JUST missed out on the bronze medal position, finishing 4th. Out of 5…). My couple of days down South were interesting – again I was meeting the lawyers involved in Oldham MBC’s proposed Public/Private Partnership deal. The negotiations are complicated, to say the least, and it’s amazing how many facets of the deal need discussion – far more than I imagined there ever were in the first place!

Once again I was in a single bed in a hotel – the management must have read the blog about Birmingham last week! The room was also very much akin to sleeping inside a furnace. For some reason the “air-conditioning” only pumped out hot air. I only wish I’d had some wet clay with me, as I could’ve fired a nice dinner set overnight.

Wednesday night was a success! I was elected the Membership Secretary of Bury Liberal Democrats at their AGM, so will take my place on the new Executive Committee in the New Year. I was also elected a Federal and Regional Conference Delegate, which means that I will be allowed to vote at conference, as opposed to just attending and listening. I suggested that, given my new lofty status, I be referred to as ”Mr Secretary” at all times. My family haven’t so far been ken to take up my offer.

Hopefully the new Executive will be able to continue the progress that the 2006 batch has achieved. I hope that this time next year, we’re celebrating more Liberal Democrat Councillors in Bury, more Members in Bury, more successful fundraising events, more leafleters, and more opportunities to help local residents.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Annual General Ice-Cream Eating

Tonight’s excitement centres on St Margaret’s Church Hall (when in the world does it not?!), for the Annual General Meeting of Bury Liberal Democrats. I believe that, were it not for ongoing industrial action, the event would be leading the BBC Evening News.

However, we aren’t ones to be felled by anything, not even that, and so the meeting carries on regardless. I am standing for election to the Executive of the local party, as Membership Secretary. Hopefully I will win, and have the chance to continue building on our growing membership in the area. We learned at Kick-Start at the weekend the value of a hard-working band of members, and whilst we have that already, it’s always nice to have more.

With that in mind I started early yesterday, and attempted whilst at the threatre to convince my Mother to join the Party. To no avail, alas. She did tell me that she’d voted for us in all of the recent elections (“I used to vote Labour when your Father lived with us, but then I realised that it was a secret ballot, so I voted for you lot because I always was a Liberal at heart…”). “Hurrah!” I thought. “Time to close the deal…” Sadly, at this point Mum was distracted by a passing programme / ice cream vendor, and returned with a tub of vanilla but with a somewhat dampened ardour for the principles of Liberal Democracy. And my plans were thwarted.

Which is a worrying fact in my book, and perhaps not one I shall be mentioning at the AGM prior to the election this evening. If I can’t convince a seasoned Lib Dem voter, who is also my own MOTHER, to join up ahead of gorging herself on ice cream, then my chances elsewhere may be a little less good.

Still, I am not a quitter, and we shall see how the election pans out.

Regardless of that, what is certain to be mentioned is how successful this year has been for the party locally. Aside from the elections, where we successfully defended a seat in Sedgley, and elected Donal O’Hanlon in St Mary’s (coming from third to first and ousting the sitting Mayor), we have also been pivotal in the Save Prestwich Arts College success, led the way in getting the Council to sort out The Retreat, sorted out some of the traffic problems in Prestwich Village, and worked with communities across the Borough on lots of other important initiatives. The Party locally has held its first annual dinner, signed up more members, raised more money, and produced and delivered more leaflets. We are certainly on the up!

I, however, am on the down. Down to London, that is (ho ho), where I will be overnight tomorrow with work. So there’ll be no blog until Friday. The results of the election will have to wait until then. But in the meantime, if you get a phone call which begins “Hello, have you thought about joining the Liberal Democrats, and how far away from the nearest choc-ice are you?” you’ll know that I’ve won!


Monday, November 20, 2006


A poor use of time

I think I have an unhealthy relationship with food... I tend to eat lots of it when I should go running, and tonight's gluttony has I suspect set some kind of world record.

I shan't go into the details, suffice to say that it involved most of a rotisserie chicken, a can of soup and some indian deli snacks (and that was before what was in the oven came out).

How does this happen? When I came home from work I had it all figured out. Get changed, limber up, stride purposefully out of the house to run around Prestwich, and return feeling as if I had treated my body with the respect it deserves. Instead, I feel that I have treated my body like a waste disposal unit.

Indian deli snacks? Why?

I comfort myself with the thought that hauling out the bin tonight will at least burn off a calorie or two, but I would have to drag it to Liverpool and back to work off dinner. It's awful. And there really is no excuse. I have steak in the fridge, potatoes in the cupboard, and fresh vergetables too. Where is the faulty wiring in my brain that says "no, tonight I will eat fish fingers and potato waffles with my fingers..." It's a sad state of affairs.

Tomorrow is also a night of sedentary pursuits. We are off to see The History Boys at The Lowry. I might get there early and spend a few minutes running back and forth across the Manchester Ship Canal, over that bridge made famous on Russell Watson's album cover. Actually, who am I kidding? I will clearly saunter in via the sweet stand and work my way through a 250g bag of Minstrels in the first half alone.

So all this is to say that there'll be no blog tomorrow. I will be elsewhere, watching a play and eating. Assuming I can be wedged out of my chair using butter and a shoe-horn (mmm... butter...), I will return on Wednesday.



Homewatch - prevent burglaries

Local Lib Dems received some alarming figures today showing a large number of burglaries in Prestwich in the last few weeks. Prestwich has fairly low crime in comparison to other areas of Greater Manchester, so it's bad news that there has been a rise in burglaries of late.

We are working with the local police and fellow residents to try and crack down on the problem. There are Homewatch groups available for all residents to join, and the Watch Scheme Administrator for Bury (Keith Middleton) can be contacted on 0161 856 8174.

There are lots of things you can do to lower the risk of becoming a victim of crime. Making sure that you remain vigilant and secure your property is crucial. The police have great tips to help lower the risk, and they can be found here (although for some reason this document seems to be made exclusively for the people of Belfast!). There is also a detailed guide to home security here.

If you are worried about crime, or have been a victim, please contact the Police or us. The number for the local Police station in Prestwich is 0161 856-4532. The Police Station in Prestwich is at Fairfax Road (turn off Bury New Road where Marks and Spencer is). Or, if you'd like a response in a non-emergency call the police on 0161 872 5050. Or of course, in an emergency ring 999.

And remember, if you take precautions the chances of being a victim are actually very low. And the Liberal Democrats locally are working with Police to make sure it's even lower.


Sunday, November 19, 2006


Back from Brum

I’ve just got back from the Kick-Start weekend, so whilst I still have the energy, I’ll write about it!

Over 100 Liberal Democrat activists from around the country gathered in Birmingham to get their election campaigns “Kick-Started,” and learn more about how they can get the bes for their local communities. From a personal point of view I really do feel energised to go out and continue our good work, and campaign to win in Bury in May.

After Cllr Andrew Garner and I became temporarily lost in the centre of Birmingham looking for the hotel (that's the last time he'll let me navigate, I'll bet...), it was great to meet fellow Liberal Democrats from as far a-field as Cornwall, Swansea and Buckinghamshire, as well as colleagues from Manchester, Bolton, Trafford and others from the North. It was also great to have a hotel room with a single bed, as I have been fretting about my disappearing youth for quite some time, and that kind of sleeping arrangement was a throw-back to much younger days!

There were 16 training sessions available over the weekend, and because there were five of us from Bury, I think the local party got universal coverage. The sessions covered lots of canvassing and campaigning tips, as well as information on how to be more effective for local communities on a range of issues.

The evenings were of course given over to more sociable pursuits, and there were two inspirational speeches, one each from Lorely Burt MP and Andrew Stunell MP. I had heard Andrew Stunell speak before, at the NW Regional Conference in Blackburn. But I hadn’t hear Lorely before, and her tales of winning Solihull at the last election were just the tonic to get us all going prior to our own campaigns in May.

Well done ALDC (and its Chief Executive, our own Cllr Tim Pickstone). If the aim of the weekend was to invigorate campaigners, then it was well and truly achieved. And, on behalf of my colleague and Sedgley campaigner Steve Wright, who doesn’t have a blog of his own, let me compliment everyone concerned on the quality of the food. Steve’s second (and third) helpings were testament to that!

I want to go to bed now, but am forced by the BBC1 schedulers to stay up until midnight, when they have decided to show a Paul Simon live show. After three late nights in a row, I will start the week needing another weekend!


Thursday, November 16, 2006


Getting Kick-Started

Tomorrow I am off to Birmingham for the Liberal Democrat’s “Kick Start” weekend, for local parties who want to learn more about how to maximise their chances at the Local Elections next May. The weekend is organised by ALDC (the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors and Campaigners - the organisation whose Chief Executive is Bury Liberal Democrats' own Cllr Tim Pickstone), and as well as training and mentoring, there'll be guest speakers including Lorely Burt MP and Andrew Stunell MP.

The weekend will be a great opportunity to meet like-minded Liberal Democrats from around the country. At the last count there are over 100 going, of which 5 are from Bury.

It will also give me a chance to take a look around my old stomping ground of Birmingham. I went to University there between 1999-2002, just at the time that the old Bull Ring was being pulled down and the whole area regenerated. I was there last just over a year ago, and the change is phenomenal. It is testament to strong local leadership that such an enormous project can come off, and has really been a boost to the city. Our hotel is not far from the new development, so hopefully I can have a look in between training sessions!

All of this of course means no blogging over the weekend, but I shall give a run-down of the news when I get back. Have a good few days.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Would you behave like that if The Queen was still there?

Today was The Queen’s Speech. You can read what the Liberal Democrats thought of it here. I am always a fan of the occasion – I like the pomp and ceremony, and it’s one of the few times that Parliament is presented in anything like a dignified fashion.

Sadly it didn’t last long, as the “We’re better than you!” “No you’re not!” posturing of the post-speech debate made for what I thought was fairly depressing viewing. David Cameron resorted to some pretty shameful personal attacks on the Prime Minister, and attacking the Government’s record without giving any real detail about what he or his party propose. Mr Blair’s rebuttal was equally short on substance (although The Queen had done much of that for him earlier).

Thankfully Sir Menzies Campbell stressed what Liberal Democrats would do right as well as what the Government were doing wrong. I think that The Freedom Bill and the repeal of obsolete statutes will go a long way to restoring faith in Parliament and the power of legislation to combat problems. Liberal Democrats support the rule of law, and the freedoms of all of us to operate within it. We want a society that is free, not one that is bound by ill-thought-out and numerous pieces of ineffective legislation.

The Liberal Democrat approach will also address what Mr Cameron calls "the politics of fear." We can solve society's problems with well-crafted legislation that attacks the causes of problems. We don't have to resort to creating a law today that doesn't work, and then creating another one tomorrow that also doesn't work. With sensible legislation that protects freedoms whilst enforcing good laws, we will have success in the long run. And we will beat the forces that threaten our world, without falling into the illiberal trap that I sometimes think we are being led into. I strongly believe that this is the right way forward.

There is no need for Mr Cameron's negativity, and no need for the school playground shouting that we saw today. Why don't politicians from the Labour and Conservative parties trust us to decide for ourselves? Why do they stoop so low to present themselves as the least bad at governing? The Liberal Democrats offer a different approach that does trust people, and does offer a real alternative.

I'm often told that the role of the Opposition is to oppose. I would say that the role of the Opposition is to put forward an alternative view. I only oppose an idea when I've got a better one. On today's evidence, Sir Menzies and the Liberal Democrats do have a better one.



Cultural Learnings of Borat

Apologies for the lack of blogging in the past couple of days – my internet connection was on the blink. But it has finished being temperamental now (I hope), so here we are again…

Yesterday I went to see “Borat,” the film by Sacha Baron Cohen that has caused a bit (but only a bit) of controversy, whilst rocketing to the top of the film charts here and in the USA. The film had the most homophobic, anti-semitic, misogynistic script I have ever heard, and yet it didn’t offend anyone in the audience. The reason was of course, that Borat’s “cultural learnings of America” were entirely spoofed, and the laughter (of which there was a lot) was at the bigots portrayed, and bigotism in general, rather than with them.

“Borat” is a fictional Kazakh reporter, who interviews unsuspecting Americans, attempting to get them to agree to his warped view of the world (it is customary in his fictionalised version of Kazakhstan to kill Gypsies, hate Jews, and treat women badly because they have “brains the size of squirrels’.”). Either that or he attempts to adapt to the American way of life, but singularly fails to move away from his Kazakh sensibilities, and ends up offending and confusing his hosts.

It was risqué, sure. It was in appalling taste. But it was hysterical, and it’s good that this kind of thing is allowed. We’re trustworthy enough to know the difference between something that is genuinely offensive, and something so ludicrously over the top that it becomes the offensive ideas themselves that we laugh at.

My only gripe is that it was so over the top that it missed the opportunity of ensnaring far more racists and sexists and homophobes! The average person would have run a mile from the sort of views being expressed by Borat. If he’d have made them a bit more subtle, he could’ve coaxed far more people into his (spoof) way of thinking. But of course it wouldn’t have made half as many people laugh!


Sunday, November 12, 2006


We remember them

Today was Remembrance Sunday, and I took part in the parade in Prestwich. The service was at St Hilda’s Church, followed by a parade down to the cenotaph by St Mary’s Park. I laid a wreath on behalf of St Mary’s Liberal Democrats. The turnout in the Church was very good. There were very many children there from various Scout-related groups, and armed forces cadets, and St John Ambulance. There were also a good many Royal British Legion veterans, although sadly not very many people in between the very old and the very young.

Still, as far as Council representation went, there wasn’t a bad turnout. Our own Cllr Vic D’Albert was representing the Mayor, as Prestwich’s longest serving Councillor. Cllrs Ann Garner and Donal O’Hanlon represented Sedgley and St Mary’s Wards for us, and Steve Wright and I were there as the local ward campaigners. Cllr Michelle Wiseman, the Conservative Party PPC for Bury South was also present, as was Bury South MP Ivan Lewis. I don’t envy him on a day like today. He hurried off after the service to join the parade elsewhere in the constituency, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he attended another parade on top of that one!

I was disappointed to see no Labour Councillors though. It's not a party-political point, but it's a shame that in a town with a large Labour-voting contingency, nobody from the party was there to lay a wreath. It also makes us look a bit greedy for laying about half a dozen...

As ever with me, there were social disasters a-plenty. First there was the dilemma of where to sit in Church. I arrived with Vic, whose lofty position as Prestwich’s Councillor-in-Chief meant that he had a seat on the front row next to Ivan Lewis. The other Lib Dem Councillors joined him, leaving me alone, so I decided to make a go of it and perch myself on the very edge of the front row. This presented a couple of difficulties. Not only was I an interloper on a row of chairs that required a sizeable democratic mandate to sit on, but I had picked the most extreme chair, directly underneath a large drape that flopped onto my head when I sat down, and was pressed right up against my nose when I stood up. Getting up for the hymns was like undoing a pair of curtains from below.

By craning my neck around the offending drape, and holding it out of my face, I could hear Father Croft deliver a very well-received and thoughtful sermon comparing our own life experiences these days with those of the soldiers we remember from The Great War. I hadn’t heard him speak before, but his reputation went before him and on the basis of today’s performance, it's well deserved. He pointed out our row of dignitaries on a couple of occasions, although I worried each time that he might single me out as an undeserving member of it!

"We are fortunate here today to be joined by the elected men and women who represent Prestwi... Who the heck are you boy?!"

But it didn't happen.

Thankfully the service only lasted 40 minutes, so I was only curtained in the drape for that length of time, and exited before becoming overly entwined in it. The parade itself was watched by a large number of people, and there was a sizeable crowd at the Cenotaph itself. The two minutes silence was impeccably observed, and the poems and bugle calls were received in the spirit befitting the day.

My experience of wreath-laying was fraught with difficulties. I hadn’t done it before, and hadn’t bargained on my debut being watched by hundreds of onlookers. It was fine though, even the backwards walking bit, and I was very pleased to take part in such an important occasion on behalf of St Mary’s Liberal Democrats.

Unfortunately, I was wearing my photo-chromatic glasses, which had gone dark in the daylight, and so it looked as if I was wearing shades at the Cenotaph. Not really appropriate. Had I realised at the time, I'd have taken them off. Apparently, according to my Mother, who was there, several onlookers asked if I was wearing them for a serious medical condition… So I have resolved not to be similarly caught-out in the future, and have bought a new pair of glasses on-line tonight, without those pesky lenses!

It’s never easy, is it…?

But overall, it was a privilege to join the parade and the people of Prestwich in a day that was so well organised by all those involved, including the Police and of course the Royal British Legion. Obviously days like these are not ones to look forward to, but their importance is impossible to overstate. Those who bring together the town to observe them deserve our credit, as do all those who take part.


Saturday, November 11, 2006


No silence for the tills!

This morning we were out delivering the few remaining Sedgley and St Mary’s Focuses left this month. We went to Scholes Walk and Scholes Lane in Sedgley, as well as bits of Rainsough and Butterstile Lane in St Mary’s. And I finally got to finish the Butt Hill Road walk that was curtailed after I ran out of Focuses last week. So if you live there and didn't get one, let me know!

All the leafleting took place of course, after the two minutes silence to mark Armistice Day at 11.00. The Remembrance Sunday services themselves, including the one I will be attending with Prestwich Liberal Democrats tomorrow (at St Hilda’s Church at 09.30 followed by a parade - please come along and show your support for the veterans) are hugely important, but the 11th November itself is of course the anniversary of the armistice ending World War I, and therefore vital to remember as well.

And I was in ASDA at 11.00, and was pleased to see that the two-minutes silence was impeccably observed. Well, almost...

Whilst all the staff and shoppers stopped and remembered in silence the heroes of the wars, a distinctly twenty-first century interruption could be heard. The self-service automated check-outs refused to conform to convention, and wanted to continue working! So, amidst the silence and respite, disturbed only by the hum of the giant freezers, came the robotic cry of:

“Please place next item in front of scanner.”

“Please place item into bagging area”

"Next customer, please!"

repeated time after time after time, piercing the silence and heard throughout the shop! I felt for the shoppers unfortunate enough to be using the machines at the crucial time. Their valiant efforts to shut the blasted things up only made the situation worse. I could see what was happening, as their frantic tappings of the screen meant that the robot within got louder rather than quieter:


Thankfully the melee didn’t disturb the solemnity of the occasion for most, and nobody got upset or angry. But it was certainly something the planners didn’t bargain for when they installed them, I’ll bet!


Friday, November 10, 2006


Dinner Dating with the 'Dems

Tonight was the “First Annual Bury Liberal Democrats Dinner.” The use of the word “Annual” was somewhat presumptuous, because if the whole thing had been a disaster, I doubt it would have become an annual event. Thankfully, it was anything but, and I imagine there’ll be a Second Annual Bury Liberal Democrats Dinner. Probably in about a year…

The night took place at the Woodthorpe Hotel, which had been the staging ground for another successful recent event, our Summer quiz. I didn’t win the raffle there, and I didn’t win it here either. Although the beady-eyed amongst the crowd at both events may have noticed the D’Albert family (home to Vic D’Albert, our PPC) won prizes in both. I suspect a fix.

But I shall leave my suspicions for the Police, and instead focus on a successful night.

Over 40 people were in attendance, which was a fabulous turnout, especially since many people came from all across Bury. The food was lovely, and certainly a change from my usual Friday night fare of Armstrong’s fish and chips! Although, despite having eaten another one of them tonight, I am still no closer to discovering what precisely a “supreme” of chicken is.

Our guest speaker was Sajjad Karim, one of the two Liberal Democrat MEPs for the North West. I’d met him previously in Blackburn, and it was nice to see him again. He re-iterated his desire to come and do anything he can to help the Bury party, which was very generous. I re-iterated the fact that there were still about 10,00-0 Focus leaflet that needed delivering! He may come to regret his kind offer come the elections in May!

Before waltzing off with a giant decorative candle courtesy of the raffle, Vic D’Albert also spoke, and there was a presentation to Geoff Young, the party’s local treasurer literally since the days of Pounds, Shillings and Pence. I think the fact that our accounts were still in that format was the main reason for his relinquishing of the position this year…

So all in all, an enjoyable way to spend a Friday night.


Thursday, November 09, 2006


Governor Training

Tonight I attended a school governors’ training session at the Seedfield Centre in Bury. It was the introductory module to the foundation course – the most basic of governors’ courses. Yet perhaps the most informative, since it gave an “idiot’s guide” to the types of governor, the types of school, and the roles that governing bodies play. For someone like me, who was pretty ignorant of anything beyond the most basic of ideas about what Governors do, it was extremely useful.

Having said that, I think that the course fell into the trap that so many seem to these days, in trying to be too inter-active rather than actually inform. At one point we were all asked to name some of the qualities that a school governor should posess... Lots of people came up with vague statements like "they should be able to communicate well." Which was true, yes, but certainly nothing revelatory. I would have much preferred the course leaders to tell us what he thought the best governors were like, so that we could go away and try and model our behaviour on that, rather than have us nod lazily at our own half-formed ideas. Ifanyone in the room knew the qualities needed in an ideal governor, they wouldn't have been sat in the most basic governor's training session!

It's like that on the TV and radio a lot these days. So many times I turn on the news or Radio 5 Live and hear members of the public who know nothing about a certain issue asked their opinion, and then have that opinion broadcast as if it is as valuable as an expert's. I think it's a policy now to get the audience involved. But there are better ways than that, surely. Let people ask questions of experts, or probe their ideas. Only the other day I was listening to a debate on the television about the future of NHS finance, where two learned scholars on the subject were using their decades of research and experience to argue the finer points, only to be interrupted by some vox pop footage of passers-by interviewed in the street for their entirely un-researched and glib opinions. Frankly, whilst I care what Some Guy On The Street has to say about something he knows very little about, and am glad he has anything to say about it at all, I would much rather have experts given the time to give their views instead! And maybe Some Guy On The Strret would learn something!

But back to the course...

Working for a Council, I forget the enormously varied types of work that a Local Authority does. I work in one small team in a small Division in a larger Directorate, which is one of five Directorates in my Authority. Tonight I got a taste of the work of a completely different part of a Council, the Governor Support Unit, who exist to provide the information and help necessary to maximise the role of governors. And part of that is, unfortunately for the Council officers concerned, giving “Governorship 101” training at 21.00 on a Thursday. But I’m grateful, not least for the certificate of attendance that I received! I know a lot more about governorship than I did at teatime today, and am looking forward to the other three modules, as well as taking advantage of the library and information facilities that Bury MBC have available to governors.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Action update: Pavements

I received a letter from a local couple on Barnhill Road yesterday, asking for some help with the condition of the pavements outside their home. This has been a problem highlighted to the St Mary's Focus team before, but despite requests, little seems to be happening from the Labour Council in terms of getting the problem fixed.

Cracked and uneven pavements are a dangerous problem - they can trip walkers up, they are difficult to navigate for people with pushchairs or mobility difficulties, and they are potentially very costly to the Council should anyone get injured. It's a shame that we have to ask time and time again before anything is done to fix the problem.

I am going to see the residents concerned tonight, and will take some photographs of the offending bits of pavement. I will work with Cllr Donal O'Hanlon (your Liberal Democrat Councillor for St Mary's) to again ask the Council to fix the problem.



Not feeling well!

Last night I went to see another Bury FC win, but I’m paying for it today.

The game last night was between Bury and Wrexham, and since my manager at work is a Wrexham fan, I tagged along to support my local team. It’s the second time I’ve been this season, although I used to go every home game when I was younger. These days I just don’t get the chance on Saturdays!

We won 1-0, which was excellent news, but I hadn’t been feeling well all day, and three hours in the cold did me no good at all. Hence me being able to type this over lunch. Whereas normally I would be in work, today I am sat shivering at my computer, sipping Lemsip and cursing my banging head. I’ve been sniffling all day too, and flitting between bed and my PC. This “being ill” lark is no fun at all. I wish I was at work!


Monday, November 06, 2006


Focusing on Focus

After the excesses of the weekend, it was back to Earth with a bump today, and a return to the office. Tonight though I am preparing the next edition of St Mary’s Focus. I have asked to have a go, and so I have obtained a copy of “Page Plus,” which is the software we use, and am going to give it a go tonight…

So, if the next edition of Focus is a bit wonky / blurry / doesn’t arrive for six months, you know why!

I haven't used the package before, and unfortunately the training session I went on took place just before lunch, meaning that I left it halfway through in search of food... So my grumbling stomach may well be the cause of some angst this evening. We shall see!


Sunday, November 05, 2006


Leaflet fun and fireworks

I was out leafleting today again. A slight timing mishap on my part (they said “meet at 4,” and I turned up at 12) meant that I was doing it alone, and I took in the Butt Hill Road area. I’ll have to go out again, since I ran out half way round.

Since I was by myself, I had time to contemplate again the Paul Simon excitement of last night. The more I think about it, the more tempted I am by the prospect of the NEC in Birmingham next Saturday, where he’s playing… I may have to see if there are any Ebay bargains going!

Tonight we are welcoming over a few friends for our annual pilgrimage to Heaton Park for the bonfire and fireworks. It’s become somewhat of a tradition to have an “open house” on Guy Fawkes’ Night and get some food in for after the display. Heaton Park hasn’t let me down once yet, and we’ve been pretty much every year that I can remember, so hopefully tonight will live up to the usual standards.

If anyone reading this is going too, I hope you have fun as well!


Saturday, November 04, 2006


The Sound of Simon

Tonight I had the pleasure of watching one of my musical heroes, Paul Simon, in action live at the Manchester Evening News Arena. And I will amuse fellow fans, and probably bore everyone else, by waxing lyrical about it now.

I’ve been a fan of Paul Simon since I stole my Dad’s vinyl copy of Bridge Over Troubled Water when I was about 12. From Simon and Garfunkel I progressed to Paul’s solo work, and this was the third time I’d seen him live.

I’m not quite an obsessive fan, but I’m certainly keen, and having checked for tour dates at work every day for a year, I was extremely disappointed to discover that they had been announced, and gone on sale, on the one Friday that I decided to take off… Still, thank the Lord for Ebay, and my own lack of financial common sense, as I bagged a pair of 7th row seats for a sizeable mark-up. The deposit for the house can wait a little longer...

So we were pretty close, which was a necessity given the cavernous and utterly atmosphere-less hole that is the MEN Arena. Sitting at the back of that place is like sticking on a CD and watching a microscopic stick figure sing a song in the distance. And I know this from bitter experience. I saw REM there once from a distance of about 2 miles. Or at least, I think it was them.

It was a pleasant surprise to discover that I wasn’t the youngest person in the crowd. Previously I’d felt like I’d entered my Father’s school reunion at gigs like this. In fact, I once went with my Mum to see Art Grafunkel, and could’ve sworn that not only was I the youngest person there, but that Mum was the second youngest! But tonight there were some youngsters amongst his fans from the early days.

After a quiet introduction, Paul played an up-tempo number, and lots of people got up and danced towards the front. Normally on such occasions, the tempo is switched back down to mournful introspection and the crowd return to their seats. But not tonight. For some reason they stayed stood up at the front, and I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to join a 50 strong throng only feet from the man himself… So, from seven rows back I made it right to the front, and spent the next dozen songs in my own version of “Jim’ll Fix It,” having one of my dreams come true and having Paul Simon play a virtual greatest hits show only inches from my increasingly slackening jaw. At one point I looked around at the hardcore fans who were already all mad enough to either get up at the crack of dawn to get front-section tickets, or to pay top rates to buy them off Ebay, and they all had the same expression of wide-eyed amazement as me. I doubt anyone’s been closer to their idol at a big gig for quite some time!

Unfortunately, the fun was not to last. A special mention must go at this point to the MEN Security staff, a more joyless bunch of individuals I have never previously encountered. Most of the people at the very front were middle-aged men who were about as threatening to Paul Simon as his microphone stand, and yet we were all shoved back to our seats by a phalanx of yellow-blazer-wearing jobsworths whose sole function is seemingly to snuff out any fun that may be going on.

I have encountered them on many occasions, and been annoyed by their immovable attitudes, smug superiority and downright rudeness on virtually every occasion. Ask them to help and they are only to happy to ignore. But stand up and dance around and they will take delight in removing you.

Still, at least I was only shoved back 7 rows.

It was a moving experience, all said and done. It’s been an emotional week, and some of Paul Simon’s songs are the perfect antidote to the sadness. In fact, listening to his back catalogue will find the right words for just about every human situation going. It’s a bit trite to say so, I know, but I’m high on the energy of the concert, so forgive me that!

The man’s 65 and may not tour again, so I’m glad I got the chance to see him again. I’d go again if I could. And if anyone gets the chance, take it! I have uploaded some photos as well, should you need a visual aid to convince you!

A lovely evening.


Friday, November 03, 2006


Saturday is Action Day

Tomorrow (Saturday) is the annual Bury Liberal Democrats Action Day. Last year we managed to deliver 4,000 Focus leaflets to residents in one day, and this year we’re hoping to beat that record. Although sadly, nobody from the Guinness Book will be on hand to give us a certificate!

This year marks a departure from normal. After success in Prestwich in recent years (we now have 6 of the 9 Councillors, with a target of 2 more in 2007), we are now moving north, and will be leafleting in Besses ward and Radcliffe East ward for the first time tomorrow.

So frankly we have to beat 4000 leaflets, because there’s two more wards to do!

I hope the weather picks up though, because I have lost my fingerless gloves, and it’s freezing all of a sudden. Just in time for the day when we’re all out for 8 hours delivering!


Thursday, November 02, 2006


David Dauer: 1922 - 2006

My Grandpa died on Tuesday night. His name was David Dauer and he was 83 years old.

Regular readers of the blog will know, like we all did, that it was coming, sooner rather than later. As I said to him last week, his prize-fighting days were long behind him. It made him smile, and he proved me wrong anyway, accidentally hitting my Mum in the face the next day when she tried to give him a drink.

I've been told about the deaths of maybe half a dozen people I know very well in my life. It's horrible, but I remember all of the phone calls and the conversations in vivid detail. And it's never like it is on the TV. There's never the thoughtful pause and the big hug. On Tuesday when the phone rang I was taking a pizza out of the oven and watching Barcelona v Chelsea on ITV1...

I’d left his bedside only 45 minutes earlier. I’d been there every day for an hour or so, watching him slip away from us. He’d slowly lost his speech, his appetite, and his will to carry on. He looked no different after he’d passed away than he did that evening when he was still alive. It was peaceful when it happened, and gave him relief from years of decline. A decline which sped up when my Grandma died, and became a positively sprinting descent in the last 6 months.

My family is Jewish, and the tradition is to bury the dead as quickly as possible, preferably within 24 hours. So yesterday there was a lot of running around to do – from the nursing home to the undertakers to the Doctor’s to the registry office to his house, and then to the cemetery. My knowledge of where the various registrars' offices are in Greater Manchester has greatly increased and, always one to live up to old saying, I did indeed “learn something new” yesterday – It turns out that deaths have to be registered in the area in which they occur, not the area where the deceased lives, or where his Doctor’s is. In my Grandpa’s case, that’s three separate areas, all of which received a visit from a slightly breathless me yesterday!

But it was all sorted, and he is buried in Failsworth Jewish Cemetery next to my Grandma.

A number of things have occurred to me in the last couple of days. First, how little I know about my Grandpa. Nobody will print his obituary. It won’t be in The Times or the pages of a magazine. He wasn’t a well-known man. But this much I know about him: He was born in 1922, and he married my Grandma Rita in 1949. What he did between those dates I have no idea. He was quiet about his War, and his childhood. I don't know if he played football with his friends, or what his school was like. What were his parents like? I just don't know.

He owned a factory that made raincoats, and he had two children. He retired in the early 1980s, and was made a widower in 2003. The details of his life are sketchy to me. I know about his family – he had two brothers and two sisters, two children, two grandchildren (of whom I am one). Lots of nieces and nephews and cousins and the rest.

But as for what he liked, what he did in his spare time, how he spent the decades growing older… I have no idea. And I didn’t think to ask until recently, when he couldn’t tell me any more even if he wanted to. I get the odd bit of information. I was discussing it with my Mum as we were by his bedside on Tuesday, just before I left. She was there at the very end. And since Tuesday, I have found out some wonderful things that I never even knew about him – how he used to talk to the children and grandchildren of the neighbours even into his 80’s, when all of his friends had passed away. How, even when his strokes had robbed him of the power to find words to say, he’d make noises and talk nonsense just to get your attention and to make sure that you were OK. Always watchful, always caring, when all he had were those who watched and cared for him.

And he’s the last of my Grandparents to die. I had three when I was born. And they’ve all gone recently. So we all move up one level now. My parents, always the middle generation, become the old-guard as we children have no Grandparents left for doting. There are very few of my Grandpa’s generation left. He was one of five. And now there’s one left. Another man who remembers the 1930s and the War, and who watched the coronation with his baby in his arms has died.

His carers at the nursing home were fantastic. Parklands it’s called. I was wary of nursing homes, but they were wonderful. I have the utmost admiration for nurses and carers who do the types of work that I honestly wouldn’t, and for criminally low salaries. They cared for my Grandpa when his family couldn’t any more, and treated him like he was family. We will say a private thank you to them, but they deserve much more from us all.

So he’s gone. My house almost went up in flames when I fled it, leaving the oven on and a pizza going cold on the side. But Tamsin saved the day. I got to see the relatives that I only see at weddings and funerals. And I said my farewells to my favourite old man.

He was a gentleman of the highest order. A surrogate father to me, and a real one to my Mother. The husband who gave my Grandma everything she wanted in life. A model professional, a quiet and dignified man. The last of my Grandparents, never forgotten.

I’m gald I got the chance to say the things that I wanted to say. I hope he’s watching over me, back with Grandma, and I hope I’ll do him proud.

Goodnight old man. Love you.


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