Liverpool Echo

Walking with Liverpool’s giants

Earlier this week I came upon a Giant by accident.

I know that’s quite difficult but trust me, I had no idea when I turned into Lime Street on Thursday night that I would bump into an enormous dog, balancing on his hind legs on a bus stop and allowing crowds to pet him.

He was mesmerising.

I had never seen Xolo live before – I was on holiday the last time the Giants visited the city – and although I knew he was the star of 2014 I hadn’t really appreciated how spectacular he was.

And, as an ECHO journalist who has planned and talked about this week’s event for weeks, I thought I probably knew all there was to know about Liverpool’s Dream.

Well, how wrong I was.

Up and close and personal with a Giant is much, much better than I ever imagined.

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I could say it’s the detail; the expressions, the movement which all combine to make you forget these are marionettes.

I could say it’s the skill of the operators, the Lilliputians who work so hard to bring their charges to life. Or the story which surrounds the Giants – the antics, the fun, the set-pieces.

But as magical as all that is, it’s not what makes this such a special time in Merseyside.

What makes our Giants – and they are ours – so magical is us – the people in the crowds. And the looks on all our faces.

Giants make us forget our problems. The bills, the daily job grind, the squabbling kids, the looming Brexit disaster, all shelved.

On Thursday night in Lime Street everyone – and I mean everyone – was smiling. Kids, grannies, teenagers. The passers-by and the dedicated fans.

We all had daft expressions on our faces, we were all talking and commenting to each other, laughing together, revelling in a giant dog and the pride in having him here.

I’m not sure any other city on earth could come together as we do here.

The Giants are very special.  And so is their audience.

More here on this weekend’s route and timetable.

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More fresh news to panic us this week – our coins and bank notes are “crawling” with bugs says new research.

Boffins took a random selection of cash and found 19 types of bacteria including listeria and MRSA. Bacteria found in faeces was also present on the cash swabbed, which can cause urinary tract infections and septicaemia.

You see? Being potless does have an upside after all.

First published in Liverpool Echo, 6th October 2018.

Liverpool Echo

Why flu jab dodgers leave me needled

IT’S September and that means we’ll be starting to see headlines about flu season anytime now.

I’ve only ever had it once – a long time ago – but can well remember how utterly dreadful I felt for days on end. Now, when someone in the office or pub tells me they have “a touch of flu” it makes me want to slap them.

Nobody has “a touch” of flu = it. If you have flu you are generally flat on your back, incapable of even opening your eyes, let alone able to hop on a bus to work.

And that’s people who are well. If you have underlying medical conditions or are very young or elderly or pregnant, flu season can be fatal.

Which is why it’s great there are free flu jabs available to so many people.

And why it’s ludicrous if those same people don’t bother to get them.

Last year 20 million people were eligible for the jab. Less than half took up the offer.

All NHS staff are also offered it as a matter of course. Again, take up was less than 70%.

Now I guess there are a number of reasons for this.

Hard-pressed workers – NHS or otherwise – may well balk at the idea of having to take time off they can ill afford.

Others may simply not know or understand that they can have the jab for nothing or how important it might be for their own health and that of others.

And then there’s the fear that having the flu jab will give you the flu – which it won’t. The vaccine doesn’t contain a live virus.

So what’s the answer?

Well, better education for a start. Posters, campaigns, mail-shots – not just to get the message out there to the public but to reinforce its urgency.

At best flu will make you feel like death. At worst it could actually spell it.

That sort of public health campaign will take cash of course, something in short supply in the health service. But surely, it’s better to spend money up-front rather than deal with the later fall-out in the shape of ambulance call-outs and emergency hospital admissions?

Meanwhile, I’d make it compulsory for all NHS staff to have the jab. End of.

And then there is us, the public. We also have to take responsibility for our own health.

You wouldn’t turn down a life-saving operation so why turn down a potentially life-saving needle?

If you qualify for the jab, have the jab.

And have a healthy – and happy – winter.

First published Liverpool Echo, 22 September 2018

 

 

Liverpool Echo

Fear not decay rotting poor patients’ teeth

In the long and growing list of life chores I would rather not do – defleaing the cat, paying the credit card demand, cooking liver – a visit to the dentist comes near the top.

It’s not that I am afraid of discomfort, although a scrape and polish is hardly a laugh-a-minute, but I resent the time the whole process takes.

Getting an appointment is a chore. No, the receptionist tells me, they don’t do Saturdays. Or late nights. Or early mornings for that matter.

Securing an unscheduled appointment is impossible and it’s expensive, because ours is not an NHS dentist.

It’s all about as much fun as, well, a toothache.

But I go, as does my husband and my kids, because you have to. The alternative is bad breath and black gnashers and once in the chair the dentist is actually lovely.

We’re lucky, though; we can pay those bills. Lots of other people can’t.

A new report this week has found there were 30,000 fewer free dental treatments carried out in Liverpool last year.

The British Dental Association claims low income patients are turning away from NHS dentistry ‘in droves’ due to the Government’s aggressive approach in stopping ineligible patients. In short, people are not seeking treatment over fears they will be fined for a wrongful claim.

But then that’s what happens when a Government ad campaign uses the slogan “don’t assume you’re entitled”. And when people get slapped for £100 simply because they’ve ticked the wrong box on a form.

The BDA talks about a ‘hostile environment’ being created by ministers for vulnerable and those on low incomes.

Too right.

Has this simply happened by accident? Well, I’ll leave that for you to decide.

Perhaps with the parlous state of the NHS you can’t blame the government for trying to claw back some cash. And of course those who can afford to pay should.

But it’s a disgrace that those who can’t – the weakest, the most vulnerable – should be made to suffer.

VISITING a city centre office the other day, a woman walked past, her coat wrapped around her shoulders.

Odd, I thought. It wasn’t exactly cracking the flags outside but it was fairly mild. A big padded number seemed a bit extreme.

Turns out the air-con where she sits is set several degrees below perishing.  Her male colleagues, meanwhile, don’t notice the icy blast one bit.

But then they’re in suits.  

Who knew that air-con was a feminist issue? 

First published in Liverpool Echo, 8 September 2018

Liverpool Echo

Hospital car park needs to get well soon

Going to hospital is stressful, isn’t it?

Whether you’re an outpatient, an inpatient or just there for your varicose veins it isn’t usually something to look forward to.

You want things to run smoothly, to be in – and hopefully out – with minimum fuss.

And, when it came to the care I received, that is exactly what happened this week at Wirral’s Clatterbridge Hospital.

The test was routine screen, the staff lovely, the surroundings clean and bright, the appointment on time.

And then I tried to leave the car park.

The barrier wasn’t working. I’d paid my ticket but the machine was having none of it, spitting the paper back like a petulant child.

I rang the help button and waited. And waited. And waited.

Wirral's Clatterbridge hospital
Wirral’s Clatterbridge hospital

Another motorist pulled up. His ticket failed and he rang for help. After five minuites someone answered and the barrier went up.

Hurrah! I dived into my car, pressed for help. And waited. And waited.

I rang the main hospital switchboard and a lovely woman put me through to a gentleman who she said could help.

Which car park was I in? I didn’t know but described where I was. He was non the wiser.

Had I paid? Yes, but the barrier wasn’t working. He was still non the wiser and advised me I’d have to wait until he got back to the office.

So I did. And then I waited a bit more. Another car pulled up behind me. The clock ticked on.

Meanwhile, the key in my back, wound tight anyway by the hospital process, was at twanging point.

Eventually the barrier was raised and I escaped feeling stressed and strangely teary.

I get that sometimes things don’t go according to plan. Technology fails, people are busy.

But a successful hospital visit is about so much more than doctors and nurses. It’s about the food and the porters, the cleaners, the building.

And the parking.

• OUR youngest is off to university later this month and that means a massive shopping trip. Or two.

Now the spoils of that retail frenzy is cluttering up our front room, rammed to the rafters as it is with pots and pans, plates, towels, pillows and – at my insistence – a toilet brush.

It’s odd to think she’ll be leaving home soon.

Still, after months of her commandeering that room – with revision notes, then holiday packing, now household items – it will nice to have it back.

I might be losing a daughter but I’m gaining a dining table.

<p>This article first appeared in the Liverpool Echo, 1 September 2018.

Liverpool Echo

Time to examine the exams

STRESS levels have taken an up-swing in our house of late.
There have been moody silences punctuated by banging doors, sleepless nights and snappy responses. And that’s just me.
Yes, after the blessed tranquility following season in June, things have kicked back into gear big-time at the prospect of A level results day next week.
The trouble is that these results – that little piece of paper on which a few letters are printed – have come to represent the be-all and end-all.
Achieve the right set of letters – A, B, C – and you’re off to your dream university course or job. You’re a bona fide success.

Get the wrong set and a

exam celebration
Get ready for more of this …

t best it’s crushing disappointment – followed by a mad scramble to try to salvage what you can of your education – and at worst an unmitigated disaster.

None of the above is accurate, of course. Grade As don’t guarantee a successful life – however that’s measured – and an E in Geography won’t mean you’ll end up homeless on the streets.
But that’s how our kids are made to feel, isn’t it?
Every. Single. Year.
Why does it have to be this way? Why are parents and teenagers put through this stomach-knotting uncertainty, every 12 months?
There has to be another way. And of course there is.
Much of Europe operates a different system to access higher education whereby students apply for their next steps in life AFTER receiving their results.
No relying on predicted grades and less of an all-or-nothing Doomsday scenario every August.
It’s not perfect but it does help to ease the terrible tension of results day.
For now, though, let’s wish all those youngsters awaiting results the best of luck.
If it all goes to plan then well done. If not – it really isn’t the end of the world.

A new report from university boffins reckons too much sleep can be bad for us.
Research has revealed that people who snooze for 10 hours are 30% more likely to die prematurely than those who slept for eight.
I don’t know about you but after weeks of being denied a full night’s kip thanks to the heat I’m willing to take the chance.

First published in the Liverpool Echo, 11 August 2018
Liverpool Echo

Brexit phoney war getting all too real

SITTING in a restaurant having a family meal, my son whipped out his insulin pen, dialled up a dose and injected. He didn’t break stride, regaling us as he did so about his plans to go to Leeds Festival and his opinion on the Reds’ chances of winning the Premiership.

We take it for granted now, this life-saving liquid that he shoves in his body and which, as a Type 1 diabetic, keeps him well.

He orders it at his pharmacy and then, a couple of days later, it arrives.

But what if it didn’t? What if there wasn’t enough to go round? Or there was a delay in delivery?

It doesn’t bear thinking about – and yet think about it we must.

Sir Michael Rawlins, chair of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency said this week that in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit the supply of medicines such as insulin could be disrupted.

This is because it isn’t manufactured in the UK and transporting it is complicated. Stockpiling is already underway.

It won’t just be insulin, either.

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There must be lots of medication brought in from Europe as well as other medical supplies and devices.

The mere fact that this is being discussed is frightening enough. The idea that it might actually happen is beyond comprehension.

Until now, Brexit has been a far-off concept for many.

Two years ago when the country inexplicably decided to put two fingers up to the EU the perceived reality of what it would mean was, at best, vague and at worst horribly misguided.

But here in 2018 things are starting to crystalise. And it’s not a pretty picture.

Food may have to be stockpiled. Motorways will become ‘holding areas’ for trucks to ease the gridlock as 10,000 lorries a day are delayed by customs checks. The new world order will impact on aviation and driving licenses, sterling and passports. As for the 5 million EU and UK expats? Well, God knows.

Of course this might all be a phoney war, gamesmanship down there in Westminster among the no-dealers, the pro-Brexiteers, the Remainers.

For the rest of us, thought, it’s just plain terrifying.
“Oof,” said the current Mr Lee as he clambered between the sheets on our return from our week’s holiday. “There’s nothing like you’re own bed, is there?” I don’t know when this happened but I appear to be married to a middle-aged man.

This column first appeared in the Liverpool Echo on 4 August 2018.

Uncategorized

A spoonful of sugar makes Disney dining so sweet

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It must have been the spoon full of sugar I’d put in my tea because when I looked up I was taking breakfast with Mary Poppins.

But then I was in Walt Disney World in Florida, a place where dreams come true.

Judging by the look on the faces of my fellow diners as we tucked into our meal alongside Winnie the Pooh, Donald Duck and Miss Poppins, I’d say objective achieved.

That morning at the Cape May Cafe in Disney’s Beach Club Resort set the standard for what was to come.

I’d been to Disney before but this time was there to find out more about the dining offer across the parks and hotels.

To be honest, I’d heard about the Disney Dining Plan but never really understood it. After all, there are loads of places to eat on every park so why bother worrying about it before you go?

Part of the answer came later that day in the Magic Kingdom where, after a morning riding The Seven Dwarves Mine Train, battling the ghosts in the Haunted Mansion and taking endless pictures outside the iconic castle, it was time for lunch at Be Our Guest.

We’re in Beauty and the Beast territory here with the restaurant designed to recreate the Beast’s castle.

It’s jaw-droppingly good and the food simple and plentiful.

No visit to the Magic Kingdom would be complete without witnessing its night-time show of fireworks and projections played out against the backdrop of the castle.

Happily Ever After is new this year, an interweaving of stories, clips and music. It’s also lump-in-throat good.

Being a journalist I asked how much the fireworks cost. I was told, in true Disney style, you can’t put a price on happiness.

Neither can you put a price on a great lunch after a hard morning enjoying yourself Soarin’ Around the World at Epcot.

It’s a well-established ride that’s had an impressive reboot, a multi-passenger flight simulator which takes you on a thrilling aerial tour of the globe.

Back on firm ground, our party stopped off in Japan for something to eat in the guise of Teppan Edo. Here, food was prepared traditionally just inches away from diners on a tableside grill, our chef bringing drama and excitement courtesy of some sharp knives and sharper banter.

I’m not hugely familiar with Japanese food but this was spectacular.

Little wonder some of the best Japanese chefs in the world work here but, again, demand is high and it’s worth checking out the menu in advance to know what you’re spending – another advantage to being on the Disney Dining plan.

I’m not a big fan of big drops on rides, so what possessed me to go on the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios I’ll never know.

Still, my stomach had settled just enough to enjoy dinner that evening at The Hollywood Brown Derby, a place awash with classic movie decor and serving staff who knew the menu inside out and were happy to chop and change dishes on request.

If shopping is your thing check out Disney Springs. The massive outdoor complex combines retail heaven with great bars, restaurants and entertainment.

We tried The Boathouse, a waterfront steak and seafood place with great wines (make sure you take ID) and a great atmosphere.

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All the eateries here come under the Disney Dining Plan so it’s straightforward enough to book where and when you want to eat while keeping abreast of your ‘credits’ – that’s the system used in the plan to help you keep track as each eaterie attracts a certain number of credits depending on what it offers.

You can ‘save’ credits too – so if you fancy a top end restaurant one night you can save them up day to day. Just adjust your dining choice accordingly.Ideal for budgeting your holiday money in advance.

This year has seen a number of new rides and experiences introduced across Disney, but none more eagerly anticipated than Pandora – The World of Avatar.

A brand new ‘land’ created within the Animal Kingdom, the centre-piece is Flight of Passage, an augmented reality flight simulator.

This is as thrilling an experience as you’ll get at Disney, soaring over oceans, across plains and mountains and through forests.

It is utterly beautiful and, for my money, now the gold standard in theme park rides.

Earlier, we’d eaten at Boma – Flavours of Africa at the Animal Kingdom LodgeDisney hotels have excellent food options from buffet service to high end dining – our hotel for our stay, the Grand Floridian was outstanding.

Boma, though, was one of my favourites and made for a varied and interesting breakfast. Satu’lil Canteen meanwhile in The World of Avatar offered quick, efficient service and some great salads – perfect to load up on ahead of the park’s new after dark entertainment, Rivers of Light.

Soon enough it was time to come home – slightly heavier than when I left thanks to the fantastic food I’d tried.
Time to cut out that spoonful of sugar. Sorry Mary.

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Disney Dining bookings for 2019

Britons booking a 2019 holiday to Walt Disney World in Florida can now get free dining for the duration of their stay, when booking with Attraction Tickets Direct. The offer provides savings of up to £2,072 for a family of four, on meals, drinks and snacks over a two-week holiday.
The offer launched in April and runs until late 2018, valid on 2019 bookings only. Bookings for a minimum of 5 nights in a Disney on-site hotel plus theme park tickets are eligible for the offer. The level of free dining is commensurate with the level of hotel booked, details as follows, with savings based on a family of four sharing one room, for 14 nights in value season:

  • Value hotel – free breakfast per guest, per day, saving up to £532
  • Moderate hotel – free Quick Service Dining Plan per guest, per day, saving up to £1512
  • Deluxe hotel or villa – free Disney Dining Plan per guest, per day, saving up to £2,072

Call 0808 271 4453 or visit www.attraction-tickets-direct.co.uk for further information.