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christmas, Liverpool Echo

Mandatory fun that’s not worth your dignity

Christmas jumpers. Discuss.

I have no problem with them on small children. I have no problem with your uncle wearing one on Christmas Day after several glasses of Bailey’s. I will even tolerate them on a celebrity or two as long a sit’s on the Graham Norton show.

But in the work place? I don’t think so.

I have lost count of the number of reasonable, grown-up people I see – usually attired for 11 months of the year in businesswear – who lose all sense (both common and fashion) come December and take to sporting hideous knitwear.

From 3D comedy Rudolphs to flashing snowmen and giant Christmas puds, the Christmas jumper remains as ubiquitous and as irritating as ever.

I just don’t get it. Why spend even a few quid – because let’s face it, these things are usually as cheap as chips and won’t stand to be near a naked flame – on something you can only wear a handful of times?

And God forbid you’re caught rolling your eyes at Gary from Accounts in his festive sparkly number because then you’ll be labelled someone who is No Fun and possibly even Miserable.

And at this time of year Fun is Mandatory. Whether you like it or not.

So, if you haven’t succumbed as yet to this fashion fiasco I urge you not to.

It will be the saviour of your dignity.

And my sanity.

It’s only worth looking ridiculous for one day a year ….

And talking of eye rolling – I did my fair share when I heard some radio stations had decided to ban that staple of many a Christmas playlist, Baby It’s Cold Outside. 

The argument is that in these post #MeToo times the lyrics are questionable at best and at worst frankly disturbing.

My first thought was: what a load of nonsense.

It’s a cheery tune, beloved of department stores and covered by everyone from Dean Martin to Lady Ga Ga.

What could possibly be the problem?

But then I listened to it. Then I Googled the lyrics. And the problem is there for all to see.

“I’ve got to get home,” warbles the woman. “But baby it’s cold outside,” replies the bloke.

“The answer is no,” she continues before asking“Say, what’s in this drink?”

And so it goes on – her trying to leave, him pressing her to stay.

It’s creepy and inappropriate. 

I know it may have been written in simpler times – the 1940s to be exact – but that’s no excuse here in 2018.

Time to change the record.

First published Liverpool Echo, 15th December 2018.

cheshire oaks, christmas, Liverpool Echo, royal mail

Posties: the human touch in online world

DID you read the story of the little lad who sent a birthday card to his dad in Heaven and got a note back from the Royal Mail saying it had been delivered?

Jase Hyndman is only seven and lost his father four years ago. Nevertheless, he sent a card to him, asking the postman to make sure he received it.

He was, as you can imagine, thrilled when a reply came back, confirming delivery and how Royal Mail had had to “avoid stars and other galactic objects” to get it there.

What a lovely thing to do. An act that cost nothing but brought so much.

Meanwhile, here in Merseyside the ECHO recently highlighted a scheme where posties are keeping an eye on elderly customers, calling on them to check they’re safe and well as the winter weather bites.

All it means is that they knock and say hello to customers but for many that might be a lifeline – and the only human interaction they get from day to day.

The Royal Mail sometimes get a bad press and it’s all too easy to take posties for granted.

But in this digital world when so much is facelessly online they remain embedded in the community, a humanitarian resource.

We should treasure them more.

SO, off I went last weekend to the seventh circle of hell – also known as Cheshire Oaks at Christmas.


Don’t get me wrong – there were bargains to be had – but the pay-off was the stress caused by a lack of parking, the queues, the crowds. And the toilets.

How can somewhere as big as Cheshire Oaks get toilets – specifically the ladies – so badly wrong?

I get there are renovations going on at the moment. I get temporary loos are nobody’s idea of fun.

But why are there so few of them – and so many out of order? Where was the water to wash your hands? The cleaner to empty the overflowing bin?

Meanwhile, over at the gents, there was no queue in sight.

Given it’s predominantly women who’ll be lashing out a fortune this Christmas it would be nice if shops made it a pleasure for us to spend a penny.

First published in Liverpool Echo, 1 December 2018.

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Cash and vision needed for St John’s

St John’s shopping centre. Picture John Bradley

I’VE written before about Liverpool’s St John’s Market and its ill-fated refurbishment but things seem to have taken a turn this week with the news that its very future is now in doubt.

Liverpool Council is in talks with other organisations about taking on the centre, which has lost around £1m since it relaunched two years ago.

What’s happened here? Why has a market with such a rich heritage and with such potential slid into its present parlous state?

Well, for a start it doesn’t help that it looks a bit like a correctional facility with all its soul sucked away. Sure, it needed modernising but that seems to have come at the cost of atmosphere.

I also know many of the traders who moved back in after the refurb have done their best – they work hard to offer great products at good value prices – but there aren’t enough of them in there.

St John’s Market should be a bright, viable destination for shoppers looking for an alternative to high end brands and high street prices.

It always was – and could be again – a real community asset where people go to meet up and exchange news and bag a bargain.

Of course, it’s easy to look through rose-tinted specs at how it was 20, 30 or more years ago when it was the bustling heart of the city centre; never more so than at Christmas.

But those days are gone. The city and its retail offering has changed beyond recognition and the past isn’t somewhere to which we can return.

The future, however, is ours to create and St John’s could have a great one.

All it takes is some cash and some vision.

SO, how was Black Friday for you? Did you stock up for Christmas? Load up on bargains? Or did you turn the telly over when the ads came on and studiously ignore it?

I was in the latter camp and instead of FOMO – fear of missing out – experienced TOMO: Thrilled Over Missing Out.

I let go of the stress of taking part in Black Friday, the relentless push to buy something, anything, as long as there was money off, the pressure to trawl web-sites or battle queues.

For a start, I’m not convinced all those money off offers are true. I have also failed to make a Christmas gift list yet so have no idea what anyone wants anyway.

And it’s November.

When it comes to Christmas shopping stress I’ll stick to tradition and wait until December.

First published in Liverpool Echo, 24th November 2018.

Liverpool Echo

Trendy kids’ Goose is rightly cooked

AS a 14-year-old schoolgirl – and like every other 14-year-old before me – I loathed school uniform.

So, I would roll the top of my skirt over to make it shorter, push my socks down to my ankles and insist on sporting a coat which was the height of fashion but non-regulation and which got me into detention on a regular basis.

“It’s not a fashion parade,” the headmistress would chide.

But it was. And still is.

canada goose
Canada Goose coats banned by Wirral’s Woodchurch school

So I am wholeheartedly behind the plan by one Wirral school to ban pupils from wearing designer coats in a bid to combat “poverty shaming”. Brands on the hit list at Woodchurch High include Moncler, Canada Goose and Pyrenex.

Of course, “poverty shame”’ has been with us for a long time.

I remember the kids in my school dinner queue who had to present token to get their lumpy mash and runny custard – denoting they were on free school meals.

But designer brands were unheard and – free school meals or otherwise – me and my school chums were all generally in the same boat; I didn’t know anyone whose family had cash to splash.

Here is 2018, however, there is a real gap between the haves and have-nots and the pressure on mums and dads to help their kids fit in by wearing the latest trainers or labels is enormous.

I know some parents are against the ban. After all, if they’ve shelled out their hard-earned cash for a coat why shouldn’t their kid wear it?

But why would you send your kid to school in a piece of clothing worth hundreds of pounds that’s in danger of getting lost or nicked?

And if it helps reduce poverty stigma – even if its unintentional – then what’s the problem?

 

 

I KNOW the John Lewis Christmas advert hasn’t been met with universal acclaim – there’s a definite lack of schmaltz in it for a start. And I understand why it’s accused of being a shameless plug for Elton John.

But there’s something about the message contained in it – that you never know the effect one gift can have – that strikes a chord.

For Elton it was a piano which led to a lifelong love of music and a billlion-dollar career.

For me it was a set of pens which led to a lifelong love of words and a job on the ECHO.

If only I’d been given a guitar …

First published in the Liverpool Echo, 17 November 2018.

 

Liverpool Echo

Shops. Use them or lose them.

woolworth
No longer a wonder … the long-gone Woolworths

THE shopping fest that is Christmas is looming but new figures show the high street is being battered like never before.

Around 14 shops a day are closing while analysts are already sounding concern that October – traditionally the start of the big festive spend – has been a slow month.

Major chains including House of Fraser, Maplin and Poundworld have collapsed this year and others have all been forced to seek legal agreements with landlords to shut stores.

It’s a lot to do with online shopping, of course, coupled with a slow-down in spending and a change in consumer habits – we flash the cash on holidays now rather than in shopping centres.

And yet, and yet . . .

There is still nothing like browsing the real-time rails, feeling and trying on goods, imagining them on your back or in your home.

Online is great if you know exactly what you’re looking for and you’re certain of your size and colour. It’s perfect too if too if you want to do a spot of price comparison or research before committing to that expensive washing machine or oven.

But if you fancy a browse or a try-on or some advice from a human being then for many people shops are still where it’s at.

There’s no doubt the high street will continue to change but if we, the consumer, want to keep our favourite brands we have to make the effort.

No good bemoaning their loss when they’re gone – like Woolies and Lewis’s and C&A.

Use them or lose them.

I WAS intrigued to read the story of the bloke asking a court to legally change his age from 69 to 49 saying he wants to avoid discrimination.

There’s been an outcry but I can’t see why.

I spent years knocking bits off my age. I was 42 for at least three years.

Then someone put an old school picture on Facebook and I was busted.

Nice while it lasted, though.

IT seems incredible that World War One  ended 100 years ago today.  I’ve never known a year where the personal testimonies of those who fought have seemed so vivid and their stories so resonant.

Perhaps it’s advances in technology that have brought to life so forcefully those who lost their lives decades ago. Or perhaps in order to move forward in these uncertain times we have realised we have to learn from the past.

Whatever it is, I predict a bumper turn-out at war memorials across the country.

First published in the Liverpool Echo, 10th November 2018.

Liverpool Echo

Blue Peter, 60 years of telly magic

WHEN I was little you were either in the Blue Peter gang or you weren’t.

And by being in ‘the gang’ I mean you were a fully paid up member of the sticky-backed plastic appreciation society. You knew what an Advent crown was, yearned perhaps for a Blue Peter badge and admired the sunken garden.

Crucially you did not watch Magpie. For Magpie was on The Other Side.

john noakes

It was unscripted, slightly improv and light years away from the ordered BBC world of John Noakes, milk bottle top appeals and Shep the dog.

Some have argued that this children’s TV split exemplified a class divide. That Blue Peter’s audience was made up only of kids who had parents who owned their own homes and who had shelves of classic children’s literature in their bedrooms.

Rubbish.

Blue Peter welcomed all kids from all backgrounds and still does.

It might have represented aspiration, though. My mum worked in a factory, my dad in Plessey’s. They wanted me to know there was more, to have more, than they ever did.

And BP, with its presenters off on summer expeditions and arts and crafts makes and guests who could talk about Egyptian mummies did just that.

The programme is 60 years old this week and it’s easy to look back on it all through rose-tinted spectacles.

Yet I would argue that production standards on children’s shows have declined.

From what I can see there are a lot of imports or repeats – perhaps inevitably as budgets are slashed – but surely kids deserve high quality shows here in 2018 just as they did in 1978?

We need to find the next Blue Peter. Government ministers are throwing cash at the project but it isn’t just about cash.

It’s about innovation and imagination.

And accepting that in the right hands even the wackiest of ideas – like a Tracy Island made empty toilet rolls, squeezy bottles and a dab of paint – can create telly magic.

MY husband has invested in a new doorbell which he proudly screwed into place one day when I was in work.

I came home, rang the smart new bell-push – and was treated to the chimes of Hakuna Matata from Disney’s Lion King. The next night he’d changed it – to Under the Sea from The Little Mermaid.

I think it’s hilarious. The kids are mortified.

And for that alone it’s worth the odd looks from the postman.

First published in Liverpool Echo, 20 October 2018

Liverpool Echo

Everyone has right to healthy meal

WHEN the kids were little my first job on a Saturday morning was to write a menu for the week.

As a working mum it helped me plan meals – that way I didn’t arrive home to stare into an empty fridge while the kids screamed blue murder.

It helped me budget too but also meant I could make sure they had a decent diet. Sure, it might be pizza one night but the next it would be fish and veggies.

But I’m lucky. I live near a Tesco and I can afford to buy fresh food.

A new report this week reckons more than a million people in the UK – many here in Merseyside – aren’t so lucky. They live in “food deserts” – neighbourhoods where poverty, poor public transport and a dearth of big supermarkets limit access to affordable fruit and veg.

The study, by the Social Market Foundation, says poor, elderly and disabled people are disproportionately affected with “deserts” defined as neighbourhoods of between 5,000-15,000 people served by two or fewer big supermarkets.

It also won’t surprise you to learn that these areas also have high densities of fast food outlets.

And to compound all this, food prices rose by 7.7% between 2002 and 2016 while incomes for the poorest families fell. They’ll fall again after Work and Pensions Minister Esther McVey revealed some households will be £200 a month worse off once Universal Credit kicks in.

Photo by Christopher Flowers on Unsplash
Desert rations … some of our poorest communities have little or no access to fresh food

This Government needs to act and act now.

Rates of obesity are on the rise. The number of people with weight related illnesses is growing. Bad diet is responsible for a whole slew of health issues – health issues which are costing the NHS millions of pounds to fix.

But prevention is better than cure. Why not offer incentives for supermarkets to move into more deprived areas?

And for God’s sake stop the roll-out of Universal Credit.

This is 2018 not Victorian England and everybody has the right to have access to a healthy meal.

IT was day two of the Marks and Spencer 90% off sale on Thursday and while clothes flew tempers flared.

But that, I was assured by till staff as I bought my (full price) winter tights, was as nothing compared to day one. Then, shoppers queued before the shop had opened before rushing in to grab armfuls of whatever they could lay their hands on, piling trollies high.

Transpires it was all going on eBay and these ‘shoppers’ were just opportunists.

I know we all have to make a living but isn’t that just plain unfair?