plenty of pics, lots of pax - and the occasional (vox) pox on all our houses

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Beautiful, isn't it?

Cathedral through hedge

Monday, 25 January 2010

Is detail more important than outline or outline more important than detail?

I was at a planning committee this evening and unseemly haste seems to fairly define the deadlines we were faced with, especially considering the boxes of material supplied. You shouldn't have to but you sometimes wonder if outrageously immediate details are only ever supplied to distract one's full attention from the underlying - and perhaps excessively revealing - thrust of long-term outline.

May not be the case - but you sometimes wonder.

So which is more important - detail or outline? For sometimes the devil of the beast is actually not in the detail but, rather, in the overview. The overview often gives you an idea of where those who have brainstormed the options - behind the scenes and under the cover of long and discussion-ridden nights - might wonder are the publicly permissible edges of the conceptual envelopes in question.  It's where big and venerable organisations may be tempted to go - as big money turns their heads step by step - that should really make us think twice. That's what happened with the banks and building societies of yore. Who's to say it might not happen again?

We'll see.

In the meantime, we must continue to believe that people choose to act in good faith and - at a local level - aim to build constructively on such good faith.  Mainly because, as I mentioned recently, we are all neighbours who cannot afford the luxury of rude disagreement.

Walls (III)

Walls (II)


Saturday, 23 January 2010

The Fallen

I like this photo a lot. It's very schematic but - even so - I feel it is full of meaning. The bars appear to both defend and invade a tale of utter sadness.

I took this photo at lunchtime today, walking down the side of Chester Cathedral. A cathedral tells so many stories. But, like any good narrator, a cathedral does much more than tell stories: it shows us them. I love Chester Cathedral because it does this so well: it is so unequivocal about ambiguity. It contains all the ambiguity that is life. Ambiguity is what I treasure.

Visit Chester Cathedral one day if you can.


Friday, 22 January 2010

Pothole success (and other local stuff)

Just topping and tailing this one - and I promise not to mention the subject for the next ... ohhh, six minutes?  My pothole actually got filled the following day!  Looks like properly too.  Thus it is that this business of reporting local problems also seems like it's got legs.  If you're interested in finding out more, you can find the official council website here for reporting all sorts of things from potholes to problem trees, manhole covers to missing street signs.

And time to begin adding to a useful links box at the bottom of this webpage I think.

In the meantime, I can't help feeling that conversational and local politics are condemned to walk side by side - whether, politically speaking, we approve of the trend or not.  I have few compunctions these days as I blog globally at and yet it takes me so much longer to happily post a locally focussed article at this place.  Isn't it the case that those you keep at a distance - whether this distance be either side of a hallowed debating chamber or the right side of a computer screen - are easier to speak foul of, easier to criticise?  With your neighbours, however, you have to live every day of the week.  Surely this dynamic should encourage local politics to inevitably lead most decent sides of the political debate to reach some kind of agreement on polite and essentially productive discourse - on both its rules and its advantages as well as a wider requirement for its continuity.

I'm clearly naive (and perhaps, by now, am aiming to remain so till the end of my days) - but, even so, I can't help feeling we need to build on conversation more often than we do on polemic.  The world really does require us to do this now.  There is too much bad stuff going on for us to want to act alike.  We need to build on face-to-face relationships which force us, oblige us, compel us to get on with each other rather than encourage at-an-arms-distance displays of energetically disagreeable gameplaying.

And that's why local politics, the really local stuff, should be our guide.  When you have to live in the same street as your opposition, you can't afford yourself the luxury of stuffy and ugly pride.  Now can you?

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Pothole story not dead after all

Aha!  I thought as much.  The pothole story has legs on it after all.  More here from the Chester First website today as alarm in Chester apparently spreads.

On creating "better physical links" between Chester Zoo and Chester

Curiously, this next story is currently published on the Ellesmere Port Pioneer's website but not, apparently, on our own Chester Chronicle's.  Or, at least, not at the moment.  Anyhow, wherever it's to be found, it comes from Trinity Mirror - and here you have the bit I like the best:
Prof Reid explained: “It is essential that better physical links are created between the zoo and Chester. We trialled a bus shuttle this summer and autumn to promote more use of public transport and linked the service to the four train operators at Chester station, 5,000 visitors used the 16 seater shuttle bus in seven weeks.”
More on the wider story of Chester Zoo's expansion plans can be found here.  The documents themselves can be found here, though the exclusive reliance on .pdf files is not really to my liking. 

Finally, if you'd like to comment online on the plans, you can do so via this webpage, where if you scroll down before doing so you can also find further information in a rather more manageable format.

A warning for all local media enthusiasts?

The truth behind all that local media talk perhaps?  I wonder who it reveals more about though - public or professionals.  It's beginning to seem a little difficult to work out the difference.

I think I like this one the best:
Pictures – Out of focus, badly framed, low res images sent in by utter idiots to highlight some awful shit that only they care about (see stories) Used to be taken by photographers.
Must I plead guilty as charged then?  Should I now feel obliged to let the tale of (more than) two potholes die a sorry and premature death?

The full story here.

Steaming potholes (no, honestly)

Driving back from Morrison's today, we came across what can only be described as a series of steaming potholes.  Yes.  Quite.  So it looks like CWaC has begun to react to the feedback citizens in Upton have been providing, though not all the potholes had been dealt with on the road in question.  Not sure how resilient such recently filled pockets of tarmac will prove to be, mind.  Vehicles were already driving over them as loose stones were flying left and right.

It is my fear that whilst it is easy to set up an interactive website, it is rather more difficult to ensure it integrates with the real world in a useful and professional manner.

Thus it is that I will report back in future posts of the mundane sort.  In the meantime, the possibility of improving the nexus of communication between governed and governors clearly exists.  Incidentally, if you're interested in this sort of thing and would like to find out more behind the issues of local democracy, you might consider following this narrative one type blog here and this narrative two type blog here.

Potholes (or showing versus telling) (II)

I now discover that CWaC has an official page on its website for reporting potholes and other such inconveniences.  This morning, I've reported the pothole I mentioned yesterday and urge all other community-minded citizens to do the same with their own local potholes, distressed street signs and the like. 

Follow-up will of course be needed to doublecheck this is not simply a public-relations exercise but is actually designed and structured so that the highways agency in question is able to deliver the results we're all looking for: a safer and more welcoming Chester.

So there we have narrative one and a little piece of narrative two bound up in one single action!

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Potholes (or showing versus telling)

Interesting idea here, rather along the lines of what I proposed not long ago here.  But there is a problem - and one that I am aware of as I continue to post photos to this website.  It's the issue of how free we can be to register our public spaces and share them on the Internet, raised interestingly in this post by John Naughton, who points us to Jeff Jarvis writing in the Guardian:
We in the media tend to view the internet in our own image. But the internet is not a medium. Instead, as Cluetrain Manifesto author Doc Searls argues, it is a place. Think of it as a public park. You may not be selectively kept out because of your association with a race, religion … or aggregator. “Linking,” says Bartlett [Struan Bartlett, founder of NewsNow, an aggregator that Murdoch papers are now blocking from linking to their content], “is a common public amenity.”

I fear that what is really in danger here is the doctrine of openness on which ­journalism and an informed society depend. Pertinent are the arguments around ­Google’s Streetview, which takes pictures of buildings and the people who happen to be in front of them. Some object that these photos violate their privacy. But they are in public. What they do there is public.
As Jarvis concludes, quite radically:
I understand that people caught on Streetview might not want us to see them strolling into a drug den or brothel. But if we give anyone the right to restrict our use of that image or information, then we also give the mayor the right to gag us when we want to publish a picture of him skulking into that opium parlour.

What’s public is public – that is, we, the public, have a right to observe, point to, share, and comment on it. And the internet is public.
Now let's transfer the discussion to potholes, the object of my previous post. It seems to me that there are two narratives we can engage in with respect to such a mundane subject: one, tell the story of a participative community of well-meaning citizens who wish to contribute to improving their surroundings as quickly and efficiently as possible; two, spread the idea of a nit-picking community of politically motivated citizens who aim to extract as much political capital out of the manifest deficiencies of a local council.

So which road should we follow? I know which road I'd prefer. In reality, though, I suppose most real worlds will be an uneasy combination of the two and - even as I am aware of the dangers of the latter narrative - I am sure I will on occasions myself find it difficult to resist the temptation of telling what might broadly be termed rather unhelpful stories.

Which hardly reflects well on my own instincts, does it?

That, I think, simply shows how corrosive politics can be.

It also brings me to an awfully dangerous pothole at the right turn from Newton Lane into Brook Lane, heading into town. Probably half a metre long as it goes across the road and fifteen centimetres wide, it clearly needs to be reported.

I can't believe it hasn't - but as I strive to engage with the former narrative I will phone up first thing tomorrow. Photographic evidence to follow if nothing is done about it.

In the meantime, and more widely, I will continue to try and juggle the two narratives as constructively as I can: explain and, more importantly, in the best Jamesian tradition possible, show what a great place Chester is to live in as well as judiciously strive to point out manifest deficiencies which should in no way be interpreted as reflecting badly on the wonderful people who have chosen to inhabit this area.

How to prevent the governors from inextricably and deliberately linking themselves with the fate and nature of the governed, in fact.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Sunday, 17 January 2010

The black hole that is culture in Chester

I wrote and quoted about this a while ago.  It's a black hole because you can only see black holes through an absence of light.  Black holes become visible through their very invisibility. 

This is a classic example of how regime change and economic downturn can combine to negatively affect the lives of everyone - whatever their political persuasions.  In the meantime, as the ruling party in local government here in western Cheshire makes plenty of plans to move to shiny new offices - mainly, it would seem, at least from the outside looking in, because it feels it needs open plan offices to manage effectively - the cultural desert that is Chester continues.

And Chester is not a cultural desert because of a lack of public support.  The local schools have vibrant drama, music and art departments and put on end-of-year productions of astonishing quality.  In the summer, on the grounds of our beautiful cathedral, we are regularly regaled with astonishing productions of traditional mystery plays.  Street musicians often delight the ear in Eastgate Street, where the famous big clock overlooks crowds of eager shoppers.  And there are restaurants of all kinds to satisfy any palate.

But the local council is not getting there.  It's not just culture - I am ashamed to post a photo of my street this morning because it is full of uncollected rubbish. 

It's not just culture - for culture is not just an add-on.  Culture empowers and allows a society to talk directly to itself, to understand itself better, to describe the past and plan for the future.  Culture is key to becoming a better society.  Culture is key to articulating the needs of us all, whether rich or poor, whether active or passive.

A city the size of Chester needs a 21st century multimedia centre of theatrical, video and fine arts endeavour.  That it has nothing approaching such an installation is evidence enough of - at the very least - a substantial lack of political will.

Maybe there's reason to this madness, intentionality behind this black hole. 

Maybe some politicians don't want their society to have such opportunities to communicate so directly and sincerely with itself.

Maybe not, indeed.

I wonder.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Off back home

The Sound of Perfection

Yep.  Came out of that with a big daft smile on my face.  Connie Fisher is so good that instead of thinking she sounds uncannily like Julie Andrews, you begin to wonder if Julie Andrews doesn't sound uncannily like Connie Fisher.

So glad I agreed to go.  Coupled with the visit in December to "White Christmas" at the Lowry in Salford, this has truly restored my faith in musical theatre.

Except, of course, that Chester has none of this.  Not even a centrally-located theatre as a potential backdrop and driver of future endeavour.

Hard times indeed ...


On the way to Manchester to see The Sound of Music

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Sunday, 10 January 2010



I love making bread - even more than eating it. Best purchase I've made in the last twelve months, this breadmaker. Even more fun than the phone I've taken the video with.

Even sounds like it's working hard.

Car blanket

Reflections on a car blanket as the snow begins to turn to slush.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Snow crunching underfoot


No. Admittedly, it hasn't got much of a plot - as my son pointed out all too soon. But I am trying out interesting technologies here. On my relatively primitive smartphone, I can post up to two minutes of video and email them to my blog any time I choose. The limitation has more to do with the maximum size of email attachments these days than the capabilities of the phone itself.

If, politically, we wish to empower people and truly connect governments with the grassroots, what better way than to try and communicate with those marvellous little computers most of us carry around in our pockets these days - that is to say, mobile phones. And, more importantly, allow that communication to work in two directions.

The photo I posted the other day of a 100-metre section of Upton's roads which apparently hadn't been gritted and was preventing bus services to Liverpool from passing through the centre of the village would - in an ideal world - have been posted to an enabling website known to all-and-sundry and would have provoked a quick solution to a foolish but easily resolvable oversight.

In a post-Blairite world, now that necessarily centralised amends have been made to the destructive effects of Thatcherism on social infrastructures most of us have always been able to agree we need, it's time to use the private technologies we're already happy to pay for as consumers to energise the relationship between governors and governed.  Photographing potholes using the hand-held computer in our pockets may not seem a very glamorous start - but any journey worth embarking on must surely begin with a single footstep of such mundane characteristics.

Being driven in Upton

Thursday, 7 January 2010

No grit, no bus

No grit on Flag Lane apparently means no No 1 bus for Upton residents today. Surely supplies can't be that low ...

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Chester Zoo, the sinking of an iceberg and why we really don't need pendulum politics right now

We had a nice day out at Chester Zoo.


And what do I come back to?

Tweets on stupid calls to ballot Labour Party MPs on a leadership they have decided they must madly look way beyond rather than honestly look to support. Their self-contemplation knows no bounds.

But I guess that's what happens when an iceberg of the selfish (nine-tenths an invisible unpredictability, one-tenth a navel-gazing striving for visibility at all costs) hits an unsinkable institution. And make no mistake about it: Labour as a political force is unsinkable. In fact, the Labour government has had its finest hour not during Blairite rule but under Brown's lacklustre leadership: the almost single-handed perspicacity which saved an entire banking system from utter collapse. There is no reason why the best could not be to come - except that in today's politics not even presentation wins the day.

Presentation presupposes there is something to present, something we can reasonably reveal. But when policy is unpresentable - and this would seem to explain current Tory reticence in all matters relating to what they would actually do if they got into power - even presentation cannot be where a powerful opposition will prefer to position the battleground.

It becomes a question of raw emotion. Gut instinct. The locating of egos.  The locating of a battle in terms of air-brushed personalities.

Although there is no virtue in being ugly - either in personality or policy.

Blairites are right in one thing, mind.  We shouldn't have to only appeal to core voters. We should try and appeal to everyone. But it's actually Blairites who've made this impossible as a convincing strategy in the near future.  The socialism by stealth they practised was the final nail in the coffin. Instead of using their immense political capital to change a country for the better upfront, they tiptoed around the issues for far too long.  The British people don't like an ambush and, in a way, this is what they sort of got.

Blairites spoke intelligently, spoke cunningly.  No hostages to fortune, them.

But then they sided with the enemy.  The de facto forces that do not need the ballot box to rule the country.

Now it may simply be too late.

I hope not.

For pendulum politics is really not what the United Kingdom needs right now.  And when those de facto forces rule within and without the ballot box ... well, that is when a generation of the defenceless loses its most precious liberties.

Nor is it enough to proclaim we have given you a minimum wage, a better education service and freedom from fear of common infirmity.  You should also be able to say you have won for yourselves all these things.

Command-control Blairism put the roofs back on the schools.

Empowering post-Blairism should teach us how to do it for ourselves.

If only the Tories could choose to build on the achievements of the past.  Sad times for a great nation which seems destined to forget how to learn politically; a nation which it appears must, always, revert to type as it tears down all the good a previous generation was able to apport.

Gatehouse and exit

Monorail (III)

Sticks and stones

Heading home (II)

Heading home

Monorail (II)

Derbyan Parrakeet (somewhere)

21st century bars

Elephant (honestly)


Dune (II)


Festive fun at Chester Zoo

Post-prandial stroll

On the way to the Ark Restaurant




Back to the Ark


My first summer job was here

Flamingo (II)



En su salsa