Liverpool Echo

Why it’s good to give people a piece of your heart – not a piece of your mind

HAVE you noticed how cross people are these days?

I don’t mean punch-you-in-the-chops cross – that’s just what happens in town centres on Saturday nights thanks to low-grade booze and high-grade testosterone.

No, it’s more a widespread, festering fury among the general populace. A quiet rage among the usually placid.

It’s mostly kept on the down-low, like a pan of stew on a low heat, but at certain points you will notice it boiling over, manifesting itself suddenly in supermarket queues, car parks and cafes where there aren’t quite enough chairs.

There’s no violence involved. Nobody has their teeth knocked out or a machete waved in their direction but there is a lot of tutting, eye rolling, huffing and muttering.

Occasional clipped words, regular in-your-face rudeness. Sometimes even some shouting.

And frankly that’s no less unpleasant.

I don’t know quite what’s gone wrong because this isn’t who we are. We’re a nation of bus-stop conversationalists, pass-the-time-of-day smilers who hold doors open for others and make brews for the bloke cleaning the windows. Or at least we were.

Somehow here in 2019 we’re all a lot less kinder than we used to be. 

This week alone I got an earful about press standards from a middle-aged bloke in a trilby when I mentioned I worked for the local newspaper, an unsavoury hand gesture from a woman in a Citroen Berlingo and outright trolley wars when I parked mine in front of the pate selection in Tesco. I have the bruise to prove it.

Perhaps it’s the uncertain times in which we live. Let’s face it, stockpiling tins of beans while watching the raging bin fire that is the Westminster political landscape is enough to make anyone grumpy.

Life in general is pressured, too. Time is short. Demands are long. Sometimes it’s hard to be cheery when there’s nothing in the fridge and the kids are playing up and you’ve just finished a 12-hour shift.

But here’s the thing. It only takes a teeny, tiny effort to make it significantly better.  

And I have a plan.

Random Acts of Kindness Day is now a thing and it’s happening soon. Usually, I roll my eyes at these made up “days” – whoever invented National Multiple Personality Day needs to have a word with any one of themselves – but this day might just be what we need.

Think about it. One act of random kindness each in one 24-hour period.

Compliment the first three people you talk to – even if one if your boss or the bad-tempered bus driver. Let someone into the traffic queue despite it being rush-hour and every fibre of your being is screaming: “No! This is MY space!”.

Bake treats. Pay for someone else’s parking. Take the neighbour’s bins out.

You get the drift.

I’m not advocating a return to the Britain of 1954.  Who needs rationing, smog and the Cold War?

But wouldn’t it be nice if, for just one day, all the fury died down?

IF THERE’S a teenager in your possession you will be familiar with many things.

Having no food in the fridge or towels in the cupboard for a start. Finding your keys or your mascara missing – not to mention a chunk of your money – is a regular occurrence too.

And then there’s trying to get the little beggars out of bed when apparently superglued to the mattress.

Now a petition calling for the school day to start later in order to help “tired” teenagers is gathering pace, the idea being that a 9am kick-off is out of sync with kids’ natural body clocks.

I can see the merit in this but here’s the snag: the rest of society needs to run on the same rhythm to make it work.

Good luck to all of us in persuading the boss that rolling into work at 10am is about increased productivity rather than a nice lie-in.

It’s Friday, it’s five-to-five, it’s back, it’s Crackerjack

I SEE the BBC is to revive the kid’s show Crackerjack 35 years after it last aired. “It promises to usher in a new era of frenetic family fun and whizzbang audience antics,” commented a breathless BBC chief.

Hmmm.  That’s as maybe but will there still be Crackerjack pencils for prizes?

brexit, Liverpool Echo

Brexit and the Blitz: the good old days that really weren’t

SO FAR I have resisted writing about Brexit, a subject which for many is about as welcome as the norovirus and just as messy.

Let’s face it, it’s a tricky enough topic among friends let alone strangers particularly if you’re unsure which side of the line people sit. One word out of place and that’s you off a Christmas list for life.

But this week I have found myself shouting at the telly too many times to ignore the madness.

You see I’ve detected an unpleasant shiver of anticipation among some Brexiters of late; a gleeful girding of loins ahead of the catastrophe that a no-deal Brexit will bring. And it’s all deeply unpleasant.

Incredibly as it seems, there are those who appear to be actually looking forward to the chaos of March 29, seeing it as a way for the nation to test its collective mettle.

After all, we haven’t enjoyed a proper battle in decades. Brexit is a great opportunity to bait Johnny Foreigner across the Channel, engage in a tussle and damn the hardship.

Food shortages? Rubbish piling up on the streets? Lack of medicines? Civil unrest?

Pah! The thinking among these crazy fools seems to be “we’ve lived through a war and we’ll survive”.

Except “we” haven’t lived through a war.

It was our parents and grandparents who endured it. It was they who put up with the bombs falling and the lack of food, the enforced separation of families and the constant fear of a telegram with the worst possible news arriving at the door.  

To invoke that kind of suffering – other people’s suffering – and fetishise it as something to which to aspire is deeply offensive and shockingly flawed. 

I’ve heard a great deal too about the “Blitz spirit”, this idea that in the darkest of times Brits pull together – usually with the aid of a nice cup of tea and a jam sandwich.

But here’s the thing. The Blitz wasn’t a great jolly jape. It was awful.

Tens of thousands of people died, homes and lives and businesses were destroyed and people suffered for years afterwards.

It was terrifying and unrelenting and far from bringing people together in many instances it tore communities apart. In some cities crimes such as looting – even from the bodies of the dead – and theft flourished. Black marketeers took advantage of the situation and of the most vulnerable. The blackout was the pick-pocket’s best friend and prostitution went through the roof.

Yes, there was courage and stoicism.

But there was also hardship and loss. Society, while not exactly collapsing, was placed under the most incredible strain.

Why would anyone but a dogmatic fool crave that again?

And here’s the rub. We went to war in 1939 and suffered as we did to stop a Nazi invasion.  

Here in 2019 we have people in charge who want suffering just to prove a point.

A WORK colleague has a theory our phones are listening in to what we say.

He tested this by explaining to a friend over a pint – with the phone on the table – about how he had forgotten to buy dog food and would need to call into a shop on the way home. 

He’s never owned a dog yet, sure enough the next day, his social media feed had adverts on it for dog food.

Intrigued, I conducted my own experiment, telling a chum on a night out about my wish to visit Japan.

Two days later – nothing. No holiday ads had targeted me.

But then the same mate phoned to ask whether I’d had a look at the fashion website she’d told me about – did I want the details again? 

And then I realised. I didn’t need the details. It had been the first post in my Facebook feed that morning.

Coincidence or technological spying?  Either way it’s spooky.

PAUL McCartney has been awarded a gold Blue Peter badge for services to song-writing.

As someone who never got her hands on one – despite years of trying – I’m unimpressed. 

He might have written Eleanor Rigby but can he make a nice picture out of gluing bits of pasta to a piece of card?

social media

Molly’s legacy should be tighter regulation

Last week, if you had asked me about Instagram, I would have said it was harmless enough.

A social media platform where people who regard Facebook as something only their parents use go to upload their fashion choices or record their big night out and where “influencers” – whatever they are – post images of themselves on a beach with the tagline #livingthelife.

In short, not really a platform for grown-ups.

But that was before news of the death of 14-year-old Molly Russell had it the headlines.

And now Instagram feels very adult indeed.

You’ll have seen Molly’s picture a lot these past few days. Her photos have been used widely across the media. There she is, a shyly smiling teenager in her school uniform, then as a little girl on a family holiday and again, younger still, cuddling a toy dog.

She could be anyone’s daughter, yours or mine, gazing out of those photos at the bright future before her.

Except her future is over.

It came to a sudden and heartbreakingly premature end when she took her own life after viewing content about suicide online. She had showed no signs of mental illness. It was only after her death her family found she had been watching material linked to self-harm and suicide.

Put simply, her dad Ian believes Instagram helped kill his daughter and it’s hard to argue.

Social media has now become a necessary evil. Society now cannot live without it and, while it’s responsible a great deal of good it also accounts for a great deal of misery.

And that misery can be most acute among children.

At best it peddles the myth that everyone is having a better time than you. Everyone is thinner, has more friends, goes on more holidays. It’s nonsense of course but it’s hard not to swallow the message, especially when you haven’t the life experience to see those posts for what they are – fiction.

It can also be a portal for bullying. When I was a kid if you were having issues in school they were generally confined to the classroom or the bus stop; home was an escape.

These days, thanks to mobile phones, the bullies can follow you all the way into your bedroom.

And now, having long suspected the unregulated, darker side of social media can be as harmful – perhaps more so – than drugs and booze we have the proof in Molly.

And she’s not unique. Papyrus, a youth suicide prevention charity, has been contacted by around 30 families in the past week who believe social media had a part to play in their children’s suicides.

Think about that for a moment. If this was a pill which was killing our kids it would be banned outright.

But what do we get? Health Secretary Matt Hancock “warning” warned social media firms they could face a ban if they don’t remove harmful material.

I don’t think they’ll be quaking in their cyber boots – his actions are too little and too late.

As parents we should be demanding that these firms are held to account for the material their sites host – and turn a blind eye to – and face immediate, punitive action.

Nothing will bring Molly back but if by her tragic death comes tighter regulation and stronger laws governing social media then it won’t have been in vain.

Every grown-up knows that water-slides, while on the face of it are great fun, should be avoided after the age of 25. Sadly, the message didn’t reach Jemma Joslyn who is suing Thomas Cook after she was crushed by an obese woman on a hotel pool slide in Turkey and ended up badly hurt.

My husband learned his lesson when, on a family holiday, his swimming trunks split as he whizzed down the slide resulting in fellow holidaymakers getting an eye-ful – and him feeling a right arse.

Medics are warning that increased use of Fitbits could lead to the NHS becoming overwhelmed by people who are wrongly being told by their devices that they’re ill.

This proves two things. One – if you want to check whether you’re poorly, you might as well just feel your forehead and, two – exercise really is the work of the devil.

Liverpool Echo, shoppping

Shopping for the human touch

‘I’m am an ad man’s dream. If shopping was a Mastermind topic I’d be reigning champion.’

I love shopping.

I don’t mean the dreary what’s-for-tea trail around Tesco. I mean the bright lights, big city kind of experience that involves department stores and boutiques.

I love the pursuit of it all. There’s nothing like finding those perfect shoes or browsing the rails to unearth that ideal dress.

I adore the buzz of the bargain, the endorphin release of spending my hard-earned money, the changing room conversations with like-minded souls, the chit-chat at the till and then coming home with armfuls of bags to explore my purchases all over again.

I am an ad man’s dream. If shopping was a Mastermind topic, I’d be reigning champion.

But last Christmas – when I usually reach joyful maximum retail – something very odd happened.

Weeks before the big day, when I’d usually be limbering up for a marathon spend-a-thon, I abandoned the high street for my laptop and bought at least three-quarters of my festive shopping online.

The reason? I simply no longer had the time to trawl the shops.

Life – as it is for so many of us these days – was just too busy and, for the first time, the idea of spending hours in John Lewis had lost its appeal.

I know. It came as a revelation to me too.

I couldn’t face battling to park and then battling the crowds. I didn’t have the room in my day for wandering around shop floors stacked high with stuff and then standing in huge queues for the privilege of handing over money for it – that’s if I found anything in the first place.

The alternative – sitting at home, brew in hand, I’m a Celeb on the telly and hopping virtually from store to store – was too tempting to pass up.

Was it a bland, soulless experience? Yes, it was.

Did it save me a mountain of time and shoe leather and stress? Absolutely.

Now if a stalwart like me can turn turtle on a lifetime habit is it any wonder the high street is in such turmoil?

Last year saw a slew of big brand names disappear. House of Fraser, ToysRUs and Maplin all collapsed. A host of others began contracting.

The picture hardly looks rosier for the coming 12 months. Only days ago, the retail giant that is even Marks and Spencer announced further store closures in addition to ones slated only months ago.

Of course, we can all blame the internet for this state of affairs but there’s more to the collapse of our high streets than that.

Up and down the country town centres have been allowed to fade away while the big-wigs wring their hands and ask what can be done.

Well, I’ll tell you. Shoppers like me need to be incentivised to return to town centres, starting with re-opening so many of those banks and post offices which have been shut.

We need to get there easily and cheaply – improved bus services and cheaper parking would help.

It needs to be an “experience” complete with the opportunity for coffee or a movie or even street entertainment.

And stores need to work harder at offering what online can’t – a friendly face to talk to, to engage with, to care, to say thank you to.

We live in an age where we can buy literally anything online except the human touch.

Shops need to capitalise on that hole in cyberspace – and quick.

vegan

VEGANUARY. I can’t even say it let alone know for certain what it is.

As far as I can make out it’s a bit like Movember but with less hair. It’s also apparently the on-trend fashion in food.

Now I’ve never really understood how the contents of your fridge can be subject to the whims of style. Jeans, bags makes-up? Yes. But beans? Not so much. 

Veganism seems to be everywhere – despite the fact you can fit the number of vegans I actually know in a phone box and still have space to eat a Big Mac.

Still, at least they’ve taken the heat off the vegetarians.

Published Liverpool Echo 20th January 2019

Liverpool Echo, Travel

Getting to Kernow you at Watergate Bay

There are two types of people in the world.

Those who love Cornwall. And those who have yet to visit.

Because a visit is all it takes to be swept off your feet by this gorgeous granite hunk, gloriously poking out into the wild Atlantic.

Cornwall’s got the weather, the food, the sea … it’s got Ross Poldark. Really, what’s not to love?

So, I can never quite believe my ears when I meet someone who says they’ve never visited.

That might be more pasties and cream teas for the rest of us Kernow-philes but, people, you really are missing out!

So, for those who prefer the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, may I offer an introduction by way of Watergate Bay.

It’s a spectacular stretch of sand, sea and clifftops on Cornwall’s coast north of Newquay where a hotel of the same name is the last word in relaxed, contemporary seaside comfort and fun.

What’s that? Cornwall’s too far to drive? True, the county is 80-miles long and 24-miles wide on average but Watergate Bay is at the long-weekend-away Devon end of peninsula.

It’s also not as remote as you might think. Newquay railway station is just down the road with direct trains from across the UK during the peak season. And for the deeper-pocketed, Newquay Airport is five-miles in the other direction.

A suite with a bathtub overlooking the bay
Take in the view from your armchair
Sea and sand sophistication
The view over the beach from the spa sundeck

The hotel at Watergate Bay pulls off the trick of being all things to all visitors without compromising on the experience for anyone.

Families with kids of all ages will love the unstuffy, relaxed, come-as-you-please atmosphere. Dreamy couples seduced by the crashing passion of the Cornwall coast will love the contemporary vibe and seaside sophistication.

Even your dog’s tail will be waggier than usual. There are no restrictions on the beach and Rover can join you in The Living Space, the cool eat, meet and greet lounge overlooking the sea, or The Beach Hut, a separate informal restaurant nearer the beach.

And don’t miss Zacry’s in the hotel itself where you’ll have breakfast but also dinner if you’re wise.

Maybe it was Cornwall casting its spell but Zacry’s was my best meal out this year. Chef Neil Haydock draws on international influences but still delivers recognisably British dishes with a Cornish twist. Non-residents are welcome: two courses £34 and three for £40.

There’s a big choice of rooms at Watergate Bay reflecting the breadth of its appeal. For the hopelessly romantic, choose a suite with a bath overlooking the bay. For families (with or without dogs), there are connecting rooms or family apartments a short distance up the hill from the main hotel.

But whichever you choose, the barefoot comfort and fresh, coastal colours will keep you bonded to Cornwall’s beauty.

There’s never any shortage of things to do and see. For the do-ers, there’s surfing, swim classes, yoga, coastal fitness weekends and the hotel spa and pool.  For those who prefer to watch from The Living Space with a beer and nibbles, there are events throughout the year to enjoy from stand-up paddle-boarding to polo on the beach (on horseback not in the sea, of course!).

For days out, the rest of Cornwall is on your doorstep. Bedruthan Steps just up the road must be one of the National Trust’s most spectacular coastal property – and it’s certainly one of the most accessible.

Whether you’re a Cornwall virgin or you long since stopped counting the visits, Watergate Bay is an exceptional hotel in an exceptional location.

20180706_121913
The coast at Bedruthan Steps

Another Place

If Cornwall really is too far, you might want to consider Another Place, Watergate Bay’s rugged Lake District cousin.

Formerly the Rampsbeck Hotel on the west coast of Ullswater, it aims to channel the same relaxed vibe, outdoors-life vibe. Surfing is off the menu here so there’s lake swimming, sailing and fishing and much else to try, including stargazing for the less athletic.

A sympathetic extension to the original hotel is home to family apartments as well as a lovely spa complex.

20180224_161719
Another Place hotel from the lake pier
20180225_112110
The view north over Ullswater
Liverpool Echo

A New Year resolution that costs nothing: kindness

Another year is on the turn and the papers are full of advice on resolutions. What to make and how to keep them.

But rather like cheap toys and teenage hearts, New Year resolutions are made to be broken.

So, this year, I’m not bothering with my regular resolve to drink less wine, eat less chocolate and take up jogging.

I know that instead of feeling smug at my achievements – another 5k done! Go me! – I’ll just feel shame at my inadequacy. An emotion which usually hits as I sit with a glass in one hand and a giant Toblerone in another.

Instead, I’m resolving to do something which is a bit less quantifiable. I’m going to be kinder.

boris
I’m going to try to be kinder in 2019. Even to him.

Now, I know this sounds soppy but think about it. Couldn’t we all do with a bit more kindness in our lives – especially in a world where it sometimes feels in chronically short supply?

Better still I have made a list of targets for my kindness to keep me on track:

  • Anyone who voted for Brexit. I’ve rolled my eyes at you for too long and it’s gotten us nowhere. I can’t agree with you but I will try harder to understand. It might be our only way out of this mess
  • The people who run the Mersey tunnels. So many queues, apparently so few toll booths open. I’ll try harder to relax and enjoy the radio rather than shouting random profanities as the start time for my morning meeting slips by
  • Rough sleepers. Sometimes I give cash, sometimes I don’t. But I’ll now try to always give time. A few kind words costs nothing
  • Shoppers in Tesco who go to the self-service tills with overflowing baskets and take an age. I will tut no more
  • People who are strangers to correct grammar on social media. I will not judge. Ok, I will but not as much

Me. And you. Let’s all be kinder to ourselves. Buy the dress, eat the chocolate, binge on the box-set. Not every day, of course, but just enough to keep us sane in this mad world.

Because kindness, like charity, begins at home.

Have a happy New Year.

First published in the Liverpool Echo, 29 December 2018.

Charles Dickens, christmas, Liverpool Echo, Liverpool Playhouse

Dickens of miracle on Church Street

“I have always thought of Christmas time as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women  open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”

So wrote Charles Dickens, the man responsible for A Christmas Carol, which celebrates its 175th birthday this year

Now, some of Mr D’s writing can be a bit hard to understand – he never used one word when 50 would do – but that quote is as clear as a bell.

And all these decades later it still resonates.

I was thinking about Dickens and his old miser Scrooge this week as I battled crowds, rain and queues in pursuit of my last bit of seasonal shopping.

On the face of it there was a singular lack of kindness or charity or forgiveness to be found in the city centre five days before Christmas.

Fellow shoppers barged past. Over-excited kids screamed blue murder while tired mums juggled rolls of wrap with bags and pushchairs. 

Rough sleepers endured the wet to sit on bits of cardboard and watch as the rest of the busy world scurried by.

Meanwhile, the news agenda was dreadful, dominated by squabbling politicians and grounded planes.

But then came a series of minor Christmas miracles.

I met a shop assistant who went so far out of her way to help I could have kissed her. Then came the woman behind me in the queue in Marksies who made me laugh so hard I lost my place in the line and didn’t mind.

Carollers were collecting loose change by the fistful and a group of the kids forgot it was cold and wet and they were bored as they gathered around the Nativity scene in Church Street, faces alight with wonder at a collection of plastic figures.

It was Christmas and the spirit of the season was abroad after all.

It took a bit of finding but Mr Dickens would have been proud.

I touched a nerve this week when I mentioned on Twitter that I couldn’t open my wardrobe for fear of a precariously balanced stash of gifts tumbling out.

Lots of readers got in touch to sympathise, many saying what a nightmare it was to keep prying little eyes at bay at this time of year.

I couldn’t agree more.

Except my kids are 21 and 18.

First published in Liverpool Echo, 22 December 2018.