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?

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.

liliputians

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.

boy giants

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