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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.

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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.

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Clothes don’t maketh the man – but they help

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Raymond Deane (15) was sent home from school for wearing a sports bra with mum Kim Deane (Picture: Gavin Trafford)

SOME months ago I met a very important man, a senior executive at a top firm.
He was giving a presentation in a boardroom and came equipped with an Apple iMac, lots of slides and an air of authority.
He also wore no socks and sported a rather scruffy polo shirt. To add insult to injury, he also had significant turn-ups on his trousers, revealing the full horror of his white hairy ankles.
Reader, I judged him.
Here was a business man in a top level meeting with other business leaders and he looked like he’d just fallen out of bed.
First impressions count, don’t they? Dressing appropriately is important – that may sound a bit old fashioned but it’s what I strongly believe.
Clothes don’t necessarily maketh the man (or woman) but they don’t half help.
I was ruminating on this as I read the story this week of a lad sent home from school in Bootle for wearing a sports bra in support of a female student. She had turned up similarly attired for school and was also sent home.
The lad felt she had been ‘body shamed’ and wanted to act in solidarity.
I should point out the bras were worn as tops rather than underwear beneath a blouse.
Now some ECHO readers have been full of praise for the 15-year-old, arguing he has stood up for what he believes in. That may be so but here’s the bottom line: nobody should be wearing a sports bra as a top to school. Or the office. Or to the shops unless they’ve called in on the way home from the gym for an energy drink and a deodorant.
It’s not being a fuddy-duddy or po-faced, it’s just being respectful of your surroundings and of others.
I’m all for individuality but not if it distracts others or makes people feel uncomfortable.
And that goes as much for sports bras in schools as it does for white ankles in meetings.

THE teenage daughter has just come back from her first girls’ holiday, a week in Corfu. She returned the colour of an old sideboard with tales of parties, boat trips and twinkly eyed Greek waiters.
 “And then there was the Sex on the Beach,” she told her dad and me over tea.
 I knew she meant the cocktail but her father? Not so much.
 It’s amazing how much mess egg and chips makes when it’s spat out with force.
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Happy Birthday to a grand old lady

LATER next month my family and I are off on holiday to Italy. I know we’re lucky. My husband and I both work full time so we can save a bit through the year which means 10 days of eating ice cream and lying under a foreign sun is entirely achievable. But things could be very different for us and for an awful lot of other people. And it’s all thanks to the NHS. Because if the NHS wasn’t the free service it is me and my better half may well still be paying off the debt incurred to have our kids. We went through years of treatments in order to become parents at a cost to the health service of thousands of pounds – although of course we didn’t pay a penny. If we had then our credit card bill would have cast a long, unaffordable shadow down the years. Even if we’d managed to clear the debt by now we would still be racking up costs to support the medical needs of our son who has Type One diabetes. Insulin, testing strips, blood monitors. None of it comes cheap. We’ve been made rich in other ways, too. My dad had a serious heart condition for many years. He had operations and drugs and inumerable emergency admissions to hospital. But he worked for Plessey’s and my mum packed biscuits for Crawford’s. They weren’t exactly rolling in cash so, in a world without the NHS and in which patients would have to pay for everything – like it was pre-1948, the chances are he would not have been around to see me grow up. But he did. He got to walk me down the aisle and be at the Christenings of both his grandkids. Priceless. Today is the 70th anniversary of the founding of the NHS. Like many things, it’s not perfect. At 70 it’s creaking a bit and needs more care than it did in the past. But we should all raise a glass to the grand old lady. She’s done us all proud. * This week saw the 18-year-old attend her school leaving prom, a glittering event at which everyone looked their best. Especially the mums watching from a nearby car park.  You’ve got to hold your school gate end up one last time, haven’t you?