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.


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.


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

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